Jared Polis, Colorado's 'gaymer' governor-elect, talks 'rainbow wave,' green jobs

Polis, the first openly gay man elected governor in the U.S., spoke with NBC News about his ambitious plans for Colorado, parenthood and “League of Legends."
By Tim Fitzsimons

Among the many historic wins for LGBTQ candidates in the 2018 elections, few are more emblematic of America's changing attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people than the victory of Jared Polis in his run for Colorado governor.

Just 26 years ago, Colorado voters approved a ballot proposition that amended the state constitution to ban anti-discrimination ordinances — which meant that liberal cities like Denver could not mandate that businesses do not discriminate against LGBTQ people. The passage of Amendment 2 led to a new nickname for Colorado: “The Hate State.”

“There are still gay and lesbian and transgender youth that are kicked out of their home simply because of who they are, or who they love,” Polis said earlier this month in a speech at the Victory Institute’s International LGBTQ Leaders Conference. “There are many states, including my home state, where it's still legal for parents to have their own kids abducted into forced, torturous conversion therapy programs that are unscientific and ineffective, so while we've come a long way, we have a long way to go.”

And yet, Colorado has changed. Its population has nearly doubled since Amendment 2 passed in 1992, and many of the state’s newcomers are politically progressive, which has transformed the state from a reliable bastion of Republican politics into an increasingly Democratic state.

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“I think that representative government is best when the elected officials look like everybody else,” Polis told NBC News following his impassioned speech. “That means people of every different race, of every different gender, of every different orientation, background, professionally and personally.”

“We’re not there yet, but I think we’re getting there as a country,” Polis said.

Polis first won elected office in 2008 and became, in his words, “the first openly gay parent to win a seat in Congress,” which helped turn the page on Colorado’s “Hate State” chapter.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Polis’ run for governor a decade after winning a seat in Congress is how little his sexuality mattered. Instead, Polis focused on delivering more government services while continuing to grow Colorado’s booming economy.

Polis, a multimillionaire entrepreneur who founded and sold several startups like ProFlowers, has used his background to push for increased use of technology in government services. Polis was a founding member of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, which studies “how blockchain technology can improve government services.”

“For too long, we’ve sort of been caught in this dynamic where people feel they have to either trust big corporations or trust the government,” Polis said. “And most people don’t trust either.”

And yet Polis is hoping Coloradans will place more trust in their state’s government. His gubernatorial bid was technocratic and focused universal health care, universal childcare, and shifting the state’s reliance on extractive industries like fracking toward a more knowledge-based economy.

Even before being sworn in, governor-elect Polis announced that he had helped Colorado secure commitments from the state’s main energy producer to reduce carbon pollution by 80 percent by 2030. “Our goal is 100 percent renewable energy by 2040,” Polis said. “The good news is, there’s going to be as many — if not more — jobs in energy.”

Polis and his partner, Marlon Reis, have two children, Caspian and Cora. “We’re excited to be moving home, full time,” Polis said. “It’s been tough living in two places, going back and forth.”

When Polis, Reis and their children move into the governor’s mansion in Denver, they’ll be the first same-sex family to do so in American history. And the couple is known to identify as “gaymers.” Some of their favorites? “League of Legends is certainly one. Age of Mythology. With our kids, we do board games like Scrabble and Boggle.”

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