December 2, 2022
Lance McDaniel still goes out in Cortez despite being recalled from the school board.(Photo by Clark Adomaitis)

Former Montezuma-Cortez school board member works to improve LGBTQ+ inclusion

By Clark Adomaitis

In Cortez, LQBTQ issues provoke strong opinions from Conservative and Liberal residents. Lance McDaniel, a liberal activist in Cortez who was recalled from his seat on the school board a year and a half ago, stays involved in the community.

Lance McDaniel drew criticism for being politically outspoken on social media. But it was his support of an LGBTQ club at Montezuma-Cortez Middle School that likely sparked the most outrage.

“An older heterosexual white guy can get away with saying stuff that someone is more marginalized might not be able to. I kind of took it upon myself to be the lightning rod,” McDaniel said.

The Rainbow Club met weekly. One Friday afternoon in 2019, McDaniel delivered pizza to them, and the students nicknamed him ‘the pizza fairy.’ The term ‘pizza fairy’ became something many people in Cortez were talking about.

“I just felt that a lot of marginalized kids were getting short shrift. Every student in Montezuma County has the right to feel safe, and feel comfortable going to school,” McDaniel said.

Vocal members of the community disagreed with him. Cortez residents Malynda Nelsen and Deborah McHenry started a petition, saying McDaniel was a ‘poor role model for our children.’

In a school board meeting in 2020, community members brought up the pizza party via the meeting message board.

“This pizza thing is really getting out of hand… Guys, leave the pizza parties alone. If you have an issue, then please call and talk to Lance. We are going to be polite and I do not believe in putting people down,” board members reacted to the messages.

In February 2021, McDaniel was recalled from his seat on the board.

Over 4,000 Cortez residents voted, two thirds in favor of his removal.

Since then, LGTBQ issues are still front and center at school board meetings. This past summer, the Montezuma Cortez School District declared lunchtime to be ‘instructional time.’ Clubs could no longer meet during lunch, and the Rainbow Club was dissolved.

“The school district is not allowing them lunch with their peers once a week. It's innocent, I don't understand the uproar, I don’t understand the need for the school district to be involved in something that goes on at lunch, because lunch is lunch,” Lance commented on the situation.

Being the focus of a very public recall might make some people hide from public scrutiny. But, McDaniel is just as passionate and committed as ever.

“It hasn't changed what I do or how I feel. I have kind of learned that if I lead something or if I say something publicly, it's dismissed by a lot of people as ‘Well, that’s just that radical Lance.’ So I'm trying to support people who are now speaking out more than being the loudmouth in the bunch. There are more people speaking up now than there have been.

Lance McDaniel is still involved in the community. He’s on the Cortez city planning and zoning commission. And, he’s part of a watchdog group that keeps an eye on the school board.

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