It is rare to find Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod relaxing these days, though it is not clear she would have it any other way. Her bio can make you tired just reading it. While running for re-election in 2018, she also championed a ballot measure, Caring4Denver, that will provide millions every year to provide mental health care in Denver.
The first LGBTQ African American legislator in Colorado, Herod has already changed the lives of thousands of Coloradans since first being elected in 2016.
As a child, Rep. Herod was a so-called military brat. Her mother was an OB-GYN on an Army base in Korea when she first became aware of the intersection of policy and people’s lives.
“My family wasn’t political,” Herod said. “My mother never even told me who she voted for.”
Home sick from school meant going to work with mom at the hospital. She remembers a woman crying after leaving an exam room. Abortions were not legal nor provided on army bases and she later learned that the woman had an unsafe abortion and was no longer able to have children. Unless women could afford to fly back to the United States (rare among soldiers and military families), abortion was not accessible.
“It shined a light for me that people without means had very different health care options,” said Herod.
She characterizes much of her work – to provide a $100 “kickstarter” account for every Colorado newborn, restoring voting rights for parolees in the state, and providing tampons and other menstrual hygiene products to inmates – as seeing the humanity in people. She knew early in her life that she wanted to get involved.
“I knew I wanted to be in the political sphere and that I wanted to have an impact,” said Herod. “As a black, queer woman, I didn’t think about political office being accessible. I thought I would possibly be a chief of staff.”
People like former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, former Colorado State Representative Rosemary Marshall and President Obama highlighted for her that times are changing and that she could get elected because of who she was.
As a legislator, she has continued to draw on her experience and personal history.
For example, Rep. Herod explained, “My sister has been in and out of the criminal justice system, primarily due to drug usage as a result of untreated mental health trauma. Many in our communities are forgotten and have no hope. People need to atone for their crimes but there should also be a path to redemption.”
Being the first African American LGBTQ representative is not lost on Rep. Herod and she sees that definition as something that helped her in public office, rather than held her back. But she also notes that she has a lot of people upon whose shoulders she stands.
“I have this privilege of being out but have seen and talked with a lot of people who have not had that luxury,” said Rep. Herod. “They couldn’t be honest about themselves but were willing to have honest conversations with me. They really allowed me the opportunity to serve and I owe them so much for that. I am out and can say things and do things because of those who came before me. That authenticity has been key to my success.”
And her success is clear. Over 50 of her bills have been sent to the governor’s desk for signature – and counting. She knows that she has an opportunity to effect change across the state, in addition to working for her Denver constituents.
“The most valuable work I do is to listen to constituents and get to know people across the state. I want to know where people are coming from and ensure we are finding smart solutions, whether that is legislation or other creative ideas in communities.”
Keep up with Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod on Twitter, on Facebook and Instagram.