When Jennifer Veiga (PolSci’83) told her dad she was gay, it immediately caused him concern for her political career: “Will that hurt you when you run for office?” he asked.
“I told him I thought it might and that it was just one more hurdle I’d have to cross,” Jennifer says.
By just about any measure, Jennifer cleared that hurdle by a comfortable margin, winning seats in Colorado’s House of Representatives four times between 1996 and 2002 and a seat in the Colorado Senate in 2003 as the first openly gay state legislator in the state’s history. And many say her subsequent work as a lawmaker has lowered that hurdle for Centennial state gays and lesbians, leveling the playing field by focusing on employment, health insurance, adoption and other areas including hate crimes.
The road wasn’t always smooth. Before one election, she learned political foes were going to “out her.” She faced a decision: status quo (“A lot of people already knew I was gay, but I hadn’t made any kind of formal public announcement because I didn’t think it was really relevant.”) or come out.
After talking it over with her campaign staff and friends, she called the Rocky Mountain News in 2003 and explained her sexual orientation.
“I decided it would be better to be proactive instead of reactive.”
Evidently it was a good decision — Jennifer won the election with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
“I can’t advise others whether to come out or not — it’s a personal decision,” she says. “But for me it was very freeing and probably the best decision I’ve ever made. I wish I’d done it sooner.”
She says she first became interested in politics at CU and interned with former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart and Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm.
“I really wasn’t that interested in politics before college, but something brought it out in me at CU,” she says.
Looking back at her legislative career — she’s in her final four-year Senate term and is term-limited — she says she’s most proud of helping change the climate toward gays in Colorado.
What’s next? She says she’ll spend more time in her day job as special counsel for Denver law firm Hall & Evans. Will she ever seek office again?
“I’ve learned never to say never,” she exclaims.
Her advice for current CU students: “If you have the interest, enter politics. It’s a tremendous opportunity to give back, to make a difference and change the landscape.”
Something Jennifer knows a lot about.