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Colorado's Jared Polis, the first openly gay man elected governor, addresses 'horrific' shooting at an LGBTQ club

Polis, who was first elected during the so-called rainbow wave of 2018 and cruised to re-election this month, has been critical of anti-LGTBQ laws and rhetoric.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks at a day of remembrance event on the anniversary of the mass shooting at a King Soopers grocery story in Boulder on March 22, 2022.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks at a day of remembrance event on the anniversary of the mass shooting at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder on March 22.Chet Strange / Getty Images file

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States, on Sunday decried Saturday's “horrific” deadly shooting at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub.

“This is horrific, sickening, and devastating,” Polis, a Democrat, said in a statement addressing the attack at Club Q. “My heart breaks for the family and friends of those lost, injured, and traumatized in this horrific shooting.”

Follow along for live coverage of the shooting.

Polis posted a heartbreak emoji in a post to his personal Twitter account later Sunday in an apparent reference to the shooting.

Polis tested positive for Covid on Thursday but was asymptomatic and working from home, according to his office.

Though Colorado was once known as "the hate state" after voters in 1992 passed a ballot proposition that banned anti-discrimination ordinances, the state has made major strides in LGBTQ rights. The state formally recognized same-sex marriage in 2014 — a year before the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. In 2019, Polis signed a law that would ban conversion therapy, which seeks to change minors’ sexual orientation or gender identity, and another law that would make it easier for transgender people to update their gender on their birth certificates and other documents.

Polis, who won re-election earlier this month, was part of the so-called rainbow wave in 2018 — referring to the record number of LGBTQ candidates who ran for office in that year's midterm elections. He is the second out LGBTQ person to be elected governor of a state, after Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon, a Democrat who identifies as bisexual, was first elected in a special election in 2016.

During Polis’ first gubernatorial run, his sexuality played only a small role in his run for governor, and he has said in past news interviews that he found Colorado voters to be more concerned with kitchen-table issues.

Though his campaign focused mainly on delivering more government services while continuing to grow Colorado’s booming economy, he has since become a vocal critic against the rise of attacks on the LGBTQ community in recent years.

“Today Colorado took an important step forward in recognizing our diversity as a strength," Polis told NBC News in an emailed statement when he signed the 2019 bills. "These bills truly underscore the idea that Colorado is a state where everyone can be their true selves and live the life they want."

Polis also has been critical of anti-LGBTQ laws in Republican-led states, which include bills pushing the prohibition of classroom discussions related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Look, words matter. Laws matter. When a group of people, LGBTQ youth, feel targeted by the words and laws that some politicians espouse, of course, it can increase anxiety, depression,” Polis said in an interview with CNN earlier this year.

Polis previously represented Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District for five terms. He first won elected office in 2008 and became, in his words, “the first openly gay parent to win a seat in Congress." Polis and his longtime partner — whom he married last year, marking the first same-sex marriage for a sitting governor — have two children. Former Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., was the first sitting member of Congress to marry someone of the same sex, in 2012.

Before his career in politics, Polis was a tech entrepreneur and amassed a fortune worth nearly $400 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. When asked about his status as one of Congress’ wealthiest members, Polis told NBC News, “I’m beholden to no one except voters.”

Polis founded and sold several startups, including ProFlowers. He was a founding member of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, a bipartisan group that describes itself as a platform for "industry and government to come together to study and understand the implications of blockchain technology."

Polis also served six years on the State Board of Education, where he pushed efforts to raise pay for teachers and reduce class sizes for students. In addition, he founded several public charter schools for at-risk youth and served as the superintendent of one of them.

Polis was born in Boulder in 1975 and grew up in California. He has two siblings. His parents founded Blue Mountain Arts, a publisher and greeting card company.

Polis earned a bachelor's degree in politics at Princeton University. In addition to being Colorado's first openly gay governor, he is also the state's first Jewish governor.