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A Would-Be Trans And Queer Haven In Rural Colorado Just Wants To Be Left Alone

Tenacious Unicorn Ranch owners Bonnie Nelson and Penny Logue discuss heightened security measures on their property with ranch member J Stanley on April 28.
Tenacious Unicorn Ranch owners Bonnie Nelson and Penny Logue discuss heightened security measures on their property with ranch member J Stanley on April 28.

There's a 6-foot-tall fence going up around the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch in rural Custer County, Colo. The people who live there say they need it because they've been the target of harassment since they relocated the trans-friendly ranch there in 2020.

The perimeter fence will add security to the ranch, which also has newly installed security cameras. There's a tension on the property, so much so that co-owner Penny Logue and fellow owner Bonnie Nelson, both transgender women, carry pistols at all times. One wall of the communal geodesic-dome ranch house is stocked with various assault weapons.

"There's some degree where we want that [militaristic] perspective," Nelson said. "All we want is to be left alone."

The 40-acre property, apart from its status as a working sheep and alpaca ranch, also serves as a "trans and queer haven" southeast of the small mountain town of Westcliffe. Nine people live on the site currently, less than half of the planned occupancy long term. Logue and Nelson hope to build a sustainable and scalable business not only through selling their agricultural products; they also want to one day establish properties in multiple rural places where trans people can feel safe, welcome and isolated from the discrimination they say they face in the traditional, cisgender world.

Several alpacas look up between taking in mouthfuls of hay at the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch on April 27. More than 150 alpacas live on the ranch, as well as about two dozen sheep.
/ Dan Boyce/CPR
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Several alpacas look up between taking in mouthfuls of hay at the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch on April 27. More than 150 alpacas live on the ranch, as well as about two dozen sheep.

The Tenacious Unicorn Ranch has ignited a cultural flashpoint since relocating to deep red Custer County last year. A number of articles from regional and national news outlets have detailed allegations of the ranchers facing severe online threats, multiple instances of local harassment and even armed trespassing on the property itself. Logue said she believes much of the local antagonism comes from conservative militia groups in the county that she said have threatened the ranchers at Tenacious.

"Look, we get made fun of all the time," Logue said. "That's not even interesting to us. It's when you come onto my property with firearms, after threatening to burn my house down — that's different."

Yet some, including readers of the unabashedly conservative Sangre de Cristo Sentinel, say the ranch is exaggerating its claims of persecution to bring in large amounts of cash through online fundraising efforts.

"Long before the tenacious unicorns came to this valley there were hard-working ranchers living humbly and quietly asking nothing from others, but [media are] making heroes out of people with their hands out to everyone in the name of 'oppression' as if they are an abused population," said a letter to the editor published in the paper under the name Lisa Frank, of rural Custer County.

Others, including county officials, said they just want residents of their communities to get along, no matter their background.

"I feel saddened that anyone — I don't care race, color, creed, religion, lifestyle, I don't care — would live in Custer County and feel that they are in jeopardy," said Custer County Sheriff Shannon Byerly.

Yet Byerly, a lifelong area native, said he does think the unicorns have made disparaging comments about county residents in some of the recent articles about the ranch.

"In my mind, that doesn't sound like you're wanting to be part of something or be inclusive," Byerly said of the ranchers. "I don't think they did themselves any favors by taking that approach."

Byerly added that building the high fence around their property only adds to that perception.

Tenacious Unicorn Ranch co-owner Bonnie Nelson uses a jackhammer to tamp down dirt around a recently installed fence post on April 28.
/ Dan Boyce/CPR
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Tenacious Unicorn Ranch co-owner Bonnie Nelson uses a jackhammer to tamp down dirt around a recently installed fence post on April 28.

Logue countered that the unicorns have engaged in a number of community-focused projects in Westcliffe, from local recycling efforts to providing local handy work to starting a community garden. The unicorns have tried to show their affection for the people of Custer County, she said, but it's just that a small group of people makes life difficult for the county's LGBTQ residents.

"This county is stuffed full of downright amazing people, and that has nothing to do with politics. We have a lot of friends who are conservatives, but we don't have any friends that are Nazis," Logue said.

As for the assertion that their harassment claims are a fundraising ploy, Logue called it a "strawman argument."

"That's classic abuser-speak is to be like, 'Oh, well, the problem is not the abuse, but it's that they went public with the abuse,' " Logue said. Recent fundraising efforts have paid for their security upgrades and farming implements like their new tractor, she explained.

The ranch's goods and services have always brought in more income than its fundraising, Logue said, and she thinks it's entirely appropriate to ask for online support to upgrade the ranch's facilities so members there feel more secure.

And, Logue said, it's the unicorns' right to shut their front gate and leave the world behind, just like anyone else.

Copyright 2021 CPR News. To see more, visit CPR News.