Gov. Jared Polis is more than a politician. He is a public servant, father, son, and most recently, a husband -- hats he wears while navigating Colorado through a pandemic. And for many in the LGBTQ+ community, he is a role model as the first out gay man in the nation to win a gubernatorial election, a feat he accomplished in 2018.
So where did Polis's journey as a groundbreaking out figure begin? "I think it was when I was 21-ish," says the 46-year-old about his coming-out story. "I actually came out to my sister first."
In the not-so-distant past, it seemed almost inconceivable for a politician to be publicly out and win an election. For this writer, having a conversation with a sitting gay governor in his office seemed surreal. But after speaking with his family members, it became clear that his upbringing helped him embark on this history-making path.
"When he was young, I could tell that community service was important to him," says Susan Polis Schutz, the governor's mother -- a filmmaker, poet, and businesswoman who sometimes sports green hair. "His coming-out story inspired me to become a filmmaker and create a movie that helps parents as their children come out."
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Schutz's film, Anyone and Everyone, features parents across the United States talking about their shared experiences of having an LGBTQ+ child. Additionally, the production sheds light on the Polis family's commitment to community service and evinces an empathy that helped the governor break so many glass ceilings. He's also great at multitasking.
"He bought an entire school wardrobe for the kids while he was not taking care of disasters," says Marlon Reis, Polis's husband and Colorado's first gentleman, who is also an animal rights activist and writer. He sees a different side of the governor than the public. "Jared is actually the cook in our family and likes to experiment in the kitchen," Reis says. "I think we had [the Greek savory pie] spanakopita almost every day for a month once."
Reis and Polis first met in Boulder, Colo., and have been together for 18 years. They have two children, ages 7 and 9. In fact, Polis was the first out gay parent in Congress; he represented Colorado's Second District for five terms. Prior to his calling in government, Polis was prominent in business, making his fortune through online ventures that include a greeting card website and the floral company ProFlowers.
Polis is also a romantic. Last November, Reis was diagnosed with COVID-19. And while he was preparing to be hospitalized, Polis proposed to him. In September of this year, Polis married his longtime partner in a traditional Jewish ceremony and made history once again; it was the first time a sitting governor had a same-sex wedding.
In his first term as the Centennial State's governor, Polis had his fair share of challenges. Colorado was one of the first states to report COVID-19 cases outside of coastal ones. With ski season and spring break in full swing, Polis was faced with tough decisions that often placed him in the national spotlight. One such setback came as Polis was set to purchase 500 ventilators for Colorado -- but the Federal Emergency Management Agency came in and seized them first (FEMA has denied this). This was called a politically motivated move by then-President Donald Trump, who soon said he would send 100 ventilators to Colorado in support of the state's Republican U.S. senator, Cory Gardner. After this incident, Polis would make all ventilator purchases without publicity, likely saving many lives in the process.
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While navigating the state through the pandemic, Polis signed a bill in April recognizing the government's past mistakes (and attacks) regarding the LGBTQ+ community.
"The [Restoration of Honor Act] reminds the federal government of the plight of the thousands of folks who served but were dishonorably discharged because of their [sexual] orientation," Polis said while signing the bill, which expands the rights of these LGBTQ+ veterans by reinstating lost state-level benefits. "This bill will begin to repair some of the harm that was caused by both the outright ban on gays serving in the military as well as the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy."
This is not the only move that Polis has made to support LGBTQ+ Coloradans. In October, Colorado became the first state in the nation to require insurers to cover transition-related care for transgender people. Polis also points to the 2018 election of Brianna Titone, the state's first out trans legislator, as a bellwether of progress. "Colorado has a strong and long history of the trans movement," he notes.
One might think much fanfare would accompany these historic moves. But much like the governor's life, these feats avoided sensational press coverage. According to those who know him, Polis prides himself on getting the job done in a quiet and efficient manner. He runs the state like he lives his life -- with thoughtfulness, rationalism, optimism, and an eye toward the future.
"The biggest thing you take away when spending time with the governor is his relentless optimism," attests Polis's chief of staff, Lisa Kaufmann, the youngest woman to serve in this post in Colorado and the longest-running member of Polis's team since he entered politics. "He is able to remain rational and data-driven while displaying huge amounts of empathy."
Polis also has a talent for working across political divides, which he has done since his days as chair of the Colorado State Education Board. "I became good friends with a very conservative rancher who has since died," Polis recounts. "I went to [a] cowboy church that he had in his barn."
But Polis is not always wearing a politician's hat. Along with all the work comes a fair share of play, his husband and mother attest. "He loves to play video games, and he plays them with Marlon almost every night," says Schutz, adding, "It is the way that he relaxes at night." (The governor's favorite game is League of Legends, a multiplayer online fantasy game.) Polis also enjoys the occasional shows with his family. "We like drag shows, and Jared likes to go out," Reis says. "We also like watching Randy Rainbow with the kids. Recently, Jared and I have gotten into the show Pose."
A recent poll showed that the majority of Coloradans approve of Polis's job performance -- and there's clear excitement over his historic tenure. "This was the first election where I was able to cast my ballot," says Mario El Khoury, a Denver resident originally from Lebanon who recently became a U.S. citizen. "I was ecstatic to vote in my first U.S. election, but voting in a gay governor is something I never imagined I would get to do in my lifetime."
Creative Director Ben Ward @_benjaminward_ Photographer Easton Schirra @eastonschirra eastonschirra.com for @theonly.agency Styling & Video Matthew Hensley Additional Video Joe Dahlke and Dante Martinez Location Governor's Residence at the Boettcher Mansion governor-residence.colorado.gov