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Recalled Cortez school board member continues to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights

Lance McDaniel, the recalled Cortez school board member.
Clark Adomaitis/KSUT/KSJD
Lance McDaniel, the recalled Cortez school board member.

Lance McDaniel was appointed to the Montezuma-Cortez RE-1 School Board in 2018. He wasn’t shy about his position on LGBTQ+ matters, attending virtual meetings displaying a rainbow flag and wearing his convictions on his t-shirts. He served on the board for three years before he was recalled in 2021.

McDaniel drew criticism for being politically outspoken on social media. But it was his support of an LGBTQ club at Montezuma-Cortez Middle School that likely sparked the most outrage.

An older heterosexual white guy can get away with saying stuff that someone who is more marginalized might not be able to. I kind of took it upon myself to be the lightning rod,” McDaniel said.

The Rainbow Club met weekly. One Friday afternoon in 2019, McDaniel delivered pizza to them, and the students nicknamed him ‘the pizza fairy.’ The term ‘pizza fairy’ became something many people in Cortez were talking about.

I just felt that a lot of marginalized kids were getting the short shrift. Every student in Montezuma County has the right to feel safe, and feel comfortable going to school,” McDaniel said.

Vocal members of the community disagreed with him. Cortez residents Malynda Nelsen and Deborah McHenry started a petition, saying McDaniel was a ‘poor role model for our children.'

During a school board meeting in 2020, community members brought up the pizza party via the meeting message board.

This pizza thing is really getting out of hand…guys, leave the pizza parties alone. If you have an issue, then please call and talk to Lance. We are going to be polite and I do not believe in putting people down,” board members reacted to the messages.

In February 2021, McDaniel was recalled from his seat on the board when over 4,000 Cortez residents voted, two thirds in favor of his removal.

Since then, LGTBQ issues are still front and center at school board meetings. This past summer, the Montezuma Cortez School District declared lunchtime to be ‘instructional time.’ Clubs could no longer meet during lunch, and the Rainbow Club was dissolved.

The school district is not allowing them lunch with their peers once a week. It's innocent, I don't understand the uproar, I don’t understand the need for the school district to be involved in something that goes on at lunch, because lunch is lunch,” Lance commented on the situation.

Being the focus of a very public recall might make some people hide from public scrutiny, but, McDaniel is just as passionate and committed as ever.

It hasn't changed what I do or how I feel. I have learned that if I say something publicly, it's dismissed by a lot of people as ‘Well, that’s just that radical Lance.’ I'm trying to support people who are now speaking out more than being the loudmouth in the bunch. There are more people speaking up now than there have been," McDaniel said

Lance McDaniel is still involved in the community. He’s on the Cortez city planning and zoning commission. And, he’s part of a watchdog group that keeps an eye on the school board.
Copyright 2022 Four Corners Public Radio. To see more, visit Four Corners Public Radio.

This story was shared with Aspen Public Radio via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including Aspen Public Radio.

Clark Adomaitis