- Title: At the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch, trans farmers raise alpaca, patrol for threats
- Date: 16th July 2021
- Summary: NEAR WESTCLIFFE, COLORADO, UNITED STATES (RECENT) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) PENNY LOGUE, CO-OWNER OF TENACIOUS UNICORN RANCH, SAYING: "It became self-evident that we would need to defend ourselves at some point." LOGUE SPEAKING (SOUNDBITE) (English) PENNY LOGUE, CO-OWNER OF TENACIOUS UNICORN RANCH, SAYING: "We caught people trying to come onto the property. Me and J were on patrol, and that was, that was very scary." TRAVELING SHOT OF ROAD TOWARDS TENACIOUS UNICORN RANCH WESTCLIFFE, COLORADO, UNITED STATES (RECENT) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF TOWN OF WESTCLIFFE (SOUNDBITE) (English) NITA LYNCH, WESTCLIFFE COMMUNITY MEMBER, SAYING: "It's a very interesting community. It's, I'd say, pretty polarized. You have a group of progressives and then a large group of people who are very conservative. I think a lot of people here fear change." (SOUNDBITE) (English) SHANNON BYERLY, CUSTER COUNTY SHERIFF, SAYING: "It's a community that's changing, I will say that. You know, 20 years ago it was very rural. A lot of people, even here within a hundred miles of, you know, of Westcliffe didn't really know Westcliffe, didn't know the Wet Mountain Valley. And so we've been found, so to speak, and we were having a lot of, a lot of people moving in. And so the dynamics are changing in the way of life that a lot of us really value is starting to be affected by the number of people that are moving in." (SOUNDBITE) (English) JORDAN HEDBERG, PUBLISHER AND OWNER OF THE WET MOUNTAIN TRIBUNE, SAYING: "It's not very many people, it's probably less than 50, maybe even 40, but there are almost always the source of tension around here, regardless of what it could be, the parade, it could be gun rights, it could be who knows what. But they somehow decided to focus in on the unicorn ranch." WESTCLIFFE, COLORADO, UNITED STATES (RECENT) (REUTERS) PERSON LOCKING UP GATE PERSON ON PATROL WITH FLASHLIGHT (NIGHTSHOT) (SOUNDBITE) (English) PENNY LOGUE, CO-OWNER OF TENACIOUS UNICORN RANCH, SAYING: "To kind of have to, like, be ahead of violent scenarios in your home all the time is, is taxing. You know, it's not fear, it's just that, like, there's a responsibility to each other to keep ourselves safe. We're a haven, and so there's vulnerable people here and bigots know that and so they target that. And so you have to create a wall. You have to create a defense of some kind, which we've done and we've done well and I think that we're safe, as safe as anybody can be. But it takes from you." LOGUE RESTING ON BED LOGUE'S HAND GOING INTO THE BAG BY THE SIDE OF THE BED THAT CONTAINS GUN LOGUE SLEEPING WITH HAND ON RIFLE (SOUNDBITE) (English) BONNIE NELSON, CO-OWNER OF TENACIOUS UNICORN RANCH, SAYING: "There's a life out here that they can let go of, a lot of life stresses and just live. I see it all the time and it makes the whole experience, it makes every bit of difficulty that we have to face, every time that we have to prove just how tenacious we are. That's what it's all for, is to give people that freedom." ALPACAS WALKING ALPACA EATING GRASS OUTSIDE RANCH HOUSE
- Embargoed: 30th July 2021 06:01
- Keywords: Colorado LGBTQ Tenacious Unicorn Ranch alpaca haven threats trans transgender
- Location: WESTCLIFFE AND NEAR WESTCLIFFE, COLORADO, UNITED STATES/INTERNET
- City: WESTCLIFFE AND NEAR WESTCLIFFE, COLORADO, UNITED STATES/INTERNET
- Country: USA
- Topics: Human-Led Feature,Human-Led Stories,United States,Editors' Choice
- Reuters ID: LVA005EM3AKAV
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: EDITORS NOTE: PENNY LOGUE'S PRONOUNS ARE SHE/HER, BONNIE NELSON USES 'BONNIE' IN SECOND MENTION, OR IF NOT POSSIBLE, THEN SHE/THEY, MAY QUINTY DYNAMIC'S PRONOUNS ARE SHE/HER, JAMIE'S PRONOUNS ARE SHE/HER, THEY/THEM AND SHE/HER FOR WRITING
The ranch hand walks along rocky ground, the beam of her flashlight cutting through the moonlit night. She holds a shotgun loosely at her side during her patrol of an alpaca ranch founded as a haven for transgender and non-binary people.
Penny Logue, who grew up on a farm, started the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch in Colorado in 2018. It had been two years since Logue had begun her transition and the U.S. Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, had just declared 2017 the deadliest documented year so far for members of the trans and gender non-conforming community, with 31 people killed.
Logue initially rented a ranch in northern Colorado to raise alpacas, whose wool is sold as a prized weaving material. In March 2020 the operation moved just outside the small town of Westcliffe in southern Colorado with 86 alpaca, 20 chickens, 40 ducks, several dogs and cats, and nine people.
On the ranch, gender is never assumed. Inhabitants are free to love who they love and be who they are. Rainbow and anti-fascist flags adorn the walls, including one featuring the three arrows of the World War II-era German anti-Nazi, anti-fascist Iron Front.
"I got here and I experienced a love and acceptance that I never did before," says ranch co-owner Bonnie Nelson. "I had true family for the first time."
As they settled into Custer County, the newcomers offered to do odd jobs for neighbors, started a community garden, and helped helm a recycling program.
Logue says that won them a number of residents' support, despite some ideological differences with conservative Custer County, home to about 5,000 people.
On July 4, 2020, Logue and Nelson headed into town for coffee at their favorite spot. The Westcliffe Independence parade had been cancelled because of pandemic restrictions. Logue and Nelson saw a steady stream of protesters, a number of whom were openly carrying guns. Some wore body armor.
Amid American flags, one demonstrator carried a banner bearing the emblem of right-wing militia group the Three Percenters, video of the event shows. Another wore a shirt that declared, 'It's OK to be White.' The phrase, according to the Anti-Defamation League, has become a rallying cry among white supremacists.
Logue said she grew up on stories that taught her to respond to "anything that looks like fascism." She wrote in a tweet that same day: "The Fourth of July parade in #westcliffe was a Nazi propaganda parade, I've never been so unsettled."
Messages and calls expressing transphobic hatred and disdain for the ranchers' anti-fascism began then, according to Logue. Reuters has reviewed several hostile and anonymous online messages, two containing death threats. One was an image manipulated to show a gun pointed at the ranch house.
In March, a volunteer escorted two armed men away at gunpoint after they were spotted climbing the hill toward the ranch house, Logue says. The identity of the men is unknown.
The ranchers talked about the hostility in media interviews, hoping increased attention would scare off harassers. Logue says they installed cameras, obtained body armor, began to build a taller fence, and stepped up firearms training.
"It became self-evident that we would need to defend ourselves at some point," Logue says.
The ranchers have not reported any of the threats to the Custer County Sheriff's Department. The ranchers said they declined to do so in part because they had seen Custer County Sheriff Shannon Byerly in a video speaking at a 2015 rally held near Westcliffe on the anniversary of the founding of the right-wing Oath Keepers, whose members believe the federal government is encroaching on their rights and who try to recruit, among others, law enforcement officers.
Byerly confirmed to Reuters that he spoke at the rally, but said that he does not belong to the Oath Keepers. The Oath Keepers did not immediately reply to requests for comment. In the speech, a video of which was reviewed by Reuters, he spoke about gun rights and his feeling that some unnamed U.S. leaders were showing signs of "tyranny."
Byerly said his deputies checked out media reports of threats against the ranch and found no evidence. He said ranchers were not contacted for the informal investigation because his deputies did not feel welcome at the ranch.
In an initial interview with Reuters, he described a "confrontational" exchange between armed ranchers and one of his deputies, who he said was barred from entering the ranch when he went to investigate an April 22 car accident involving a ranch hand.
Footage from the deputy's body cam video during his visit the day of the accident, obtained through a public records request, shows a single ranch hand, not visibly carrying weapons. The video shows the ranch hand greeting the deputy at the gate, being questioned about the accident, and offering contact information. Asked about the discrepancies, the sheriff acknowledged in a subsequent interview he had been mistaken in his account.
On a recent day in late June, ranchers and volunteers formed a semi-circle, spreading their arms wide and corralling a few dozen fuzzy alpaca into a holding pen for shearing.
After a long day, Logue made her way back to her room as the sun began to sink, sending shafts of light through thick indigo storm clouds above the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Sore from a day of wrangling alpaca, Logue collapsed onto her mattress and closed her eyes. Outside her door, the sounds of warm chatter and dinner prep filtered down the hallway from the kitchen.
As she began to drift off to sleep, she rolled toward the edge of the bed. Logue's hand fell off the side of the mattress and came to rest, instinctively, on her rifle.
(Production: Leah Millis/Jane Ross)
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