Americans first learned Matthew Shepard’s name when he was brutally murdered for being gay 19 years ago. Almost one year earlier, Chris Dawkins and his then-business partner opened the Denver Wrangler bar. Those two events are not easily seen as relevant to each other. However, this month the foundation created in Matthew’s name and the gay bar known for its one-time hostility toward female patrons and a very controversial "gender matching" ID policy — where the gender of patrons' photo identifications had to match their presenting appearance — came together for a charity event.
The Matthew Shepard Foundation's Bear-lesque to Make a Difference has become an annual part of the weekend preceding the organization’s big Denver gala, Bear to Make a Difference. This year's Bear-lesque event took place at the Denver Wrangler.
Many on social media questioned how the ideals of the Matthew Shepard Foundation reconciled with an LGBT business they felt discriminated against transgender and lesbian people. Matthew Shepard Foundation executive director Jason Marsden recounted an email that excoriated him for partnering with the Wrangler, calliing out the bar's one-time policy, which has since been changed.
"That was a painful thing to hear," Marsden admits.
As part of teaming up with the foundation, Dawkins committed to a public apology for his former ID policy. But in early September, months after agreeing to hold the Bear-lesque event, the Wrangler's website had not posted an apology, or even updated their website with the new door policy. Finally, on September 11, the long-sought apology came.
Dawkins agreed to sit down for a one-on-one interview — at the Matthew Shepard Foundation in Denver — to discuss his "gender matching" policy and why it took so long to dump it. During our discussion, Dawkins admitted it was a “difficult policy to uphold” while also saying, it “wrecked a couple of careers and a couple of people's lives.” Watch below.
EDEN LANE is a freelance journalist based in Denver. Follow her on Twitter @edenlane.