The Leader

Dave Montez leads the charge for LGBT equality and opportunity in Colorado.

By Brett McPherson

Publish Date: June 24, 2014

Montez, outside the offices of One Colorado. Photo: Mark Woolcott.

In the sunny corner office of One Colorado’s Capitol Hill headquarters, Dave Montez (B.A. journalism ’02) explains his approach to leadership. It’s based, he says, on values he acquired in his youth and lessons he learned about the power of people working together.

“When I think of leaders, I think of folks who I learned from—people who apply both firmness and compassion to their approach,” says the new executive director of One Colorado, the leading statewide advocacy organization working to secure equality and opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Coloradans and their families.

Montez grew up in the economically depressed, rural southern Colorado town of Gardner, population less than 600. His grandparents—proud Catholics with a strong work ethic and traditional values—helped raise him. They taught Montez about overcoming adversity at an early age.

“I remember getting roughed up quite often just for being different,” he says. “And that was compounded by the fact that we didn’t have a lot of money.”

But his family and neighbors created a powerful community around Montez. They pooled their financial resources so he could get what he needed. They provided a loving and supportive social network. He was never told that he couldn’t do something. And even though his family is devoutly religious, they came to love and accept him as an openly gay person.

This community spirit became the foundation of Montez’s leadership style. “It has really impacted the way I see nonprofit work,” he says. “No single nonprofit has enough money, enough time, enough resources to do all the incredible work that needs to be done, to make the social change that needs to happen.”

And yet Montez has led advocacy organizations towards great success despite such hurdles. He was acting president of the national Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) when the Boy Scouts of America lifted the ban on openly gay members and when Colorado allowed civil unions for same-sex couples.

Some of the fundamental principles Montez has embraced came from the classroom. At MSU Denver, he says, professors respected the diversity of ideas. “That has carried throughout my work,” he says. “It reminds me to listen to people more and respect their opinions.”

In his view, the personal connection between people is what brings change. “The most powerful tool we have is storytelling,” he says. “When someone is sitting across the table from you, whether it’s a Boy Scout or a den mother or a loving couple who want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, it’s hard to say no to that—to say ‘No, you’re not good enough for this institution.’”

Montez feels that advancements in marriage equality have come from gay and lesbian couples talking openly about why they want to marry. Similarly, when Latina/o activists known as DREAMers began campaigning for education rights, Montez noticed huge shifts in the public conversation about undocumented immigrants.

“Storytelling is such a powerful thing,” he says, “not just for LGBT people, I think, but for other progressive causes as well.”

The American Dream is found in these stories, Montez says. Wanting to build a family or get an education—these are causes that all people can rally around.

“You can do far more when people come together to make it happen,” he says.