We were asked by ACLU Colorado to provide testimony for The House Transportation & Local Government Committee hearing on May 25, 2021. Here is the transcript and an audio recording of that testimony.
Dear esteemed members of the House Transportation & Local Government Committee and bill sponsors, Cutter and Rodriguez, thank you for holding this important hearing to listen to and learn about how this issue of free speech is directly affecting your constituents.
My name is Ben Wilkoff, and I am here today because I believe there is no institution in American life that the has standing or power to strip the rights afforded to me by the constitution of the United States of America. And yet, that is exactly what our Homeowners Association claims. This organization which oversees 71 homes and whose supposed purpose is to provide access to reliable trash service and to keep the front entryway to our neighborhood looking clean, has baselessly asserted that they have the right to limit any speech they deem inconsistent with, as one HOA board member put it, “a family-friendly place where people have established deep roots.”
And yet, the current HOA policy of selectively enforced content-based flag censorship is not friendly to my family. In fact, we have felt, in both the words and actions of our HOA, that the policing of our speech is meant to intimidate and select for only specific types of families to live in our neighborhood (and again, I’m quoting) “promote rising property values.”
We have lived in our neighborhood since 2009, and in that time, we have seen flags waive to show pride in a favorite sports team or signs put up to show pride in a graduating senior. These things are worthy of showing pride. We are proud of our children. We are proud when our favorite team wins. But so too are we proud of who we are, as Americans and members of a diverse society and democracy. And yet, when my family chose to express this pride in our multi-racial makeup and chose to proclaim, despite much evidence to the contrary, that Black Lives, do indeed, Matter, our HOA has declared this type of pride is not allowed. This type of solidarity will somehow lower housing prices. And this type of identity is worthy only of censorship.
And that is why I am here in support of HB21-1310. Passing this bill will mean that no other families will receive letters on official HOA letterhead telling them that their identity is “not approved.” Passing this bill will mean no other households have to hide who they are in order to be accepted within a community. You have the power to de-politicize our neighborhood. You can, with this vote, remove the illusion that a Homeowners Association can govern the content of a flag in the hopes of whitewashing a history of violence and exclusion.
Ultimately, though, our flag is not just a symbol to black members of our community that they matter or to my wife and children that they matter. It is a symbol that free speech matters; that the constitution matters. And, that is why your yes vote is so important to me and to my family. Thank you for your time, your attention, and your passion for making Colorado and my neighborhood of Kensington Ridge a place I am proud to call home.Ben Wilkoff
Thank you to the House Transportation and Local Government Committee as well as the bill sponsors Representative Cutter and Rodriguez for being here today. Your service is greatly appreciated. My name is Kara Roux Wilkoff and I’m a resident of Littleton, CO.
Our first amendment clearly states that our freedom of speech shall not be abridged. This right, guaranteed over 230 years ago stands both true and unalienable today as much as it did then. My HOA, Kensington Ridge and Cobblestone Village, believes differently. They believe that they can choose which content and whose freedom of speech is allowable.
I would never have known this about my HOA had it not been for my family’s decision to fly a Black Lives Matter flag. The details of Elijah McClain’s murder in Aurora was the last I could handle in what has been a horrible time for people of color. As a half black woman, it is important to me, that I do something. Something to represent inclusion, acknowledgement, love and support of Black lives, of both my people and those of the world. Hanging our flag, albeit a small gesture was one of the possible way we could support and so we did.
My HOA has had flags since we’ve lived here; over 12 years. Athletic flags (like the Avs), American flags (which were expressly protected by the State Law) and many signs. Signs that show these neighbors are proud of who they are and even more proud to display them on their own property. This felt no different to me. My flag.
Then, we got the first letter from the HOA telling us we must take it down or get it approved. We jumped through all the hoops — dotted i’s crossed more t’s than were written. We were told our flag was not approved. We were told signs were not allowed based upon our HOA covenants. How could that be when for over the past decade we have seen many flags just like we can right now – all without any enforcement from the HOA.? It was then I realized that it was the “content” of our flag that was the deciding factor.
To be clear, that content states: BLACK LIVES MATTER. And they do.
Since then, I’ve received letters from neighbors telling me they are not racist with what I find to be painful anecdotes such as, “I used to date black men” but I just don’t agree with BLM. I have had neighbors, get into my personal space to tell me their story that inevitably has something to do with an experience they have had with a person of color. I have been told that a neighbor said, “Not that it matters, but George Floyd wasn’t that great of a person.”
And I weep.
Neighbors have consistently touted that they want “a quiet good life.” As if somehow a sign supporting black lives leads to not living a quiet good life. I’ve had neighbors tell me that they don’t feel comfortable (with my flag). Does my skin make you uncomfortable too? I still weep.
Members of this committee, passing HB 21 13 10 will make it so that the “association” will not be able to prohibit or regulate the display of flags based on their subject matter, content or message.” This is what our constitution protects. The HOA is abusing its power all over the state and using the current statue as a shield and we need your help, your courage, your fight to shift it back. To us, the citizens. So that we can continue to proudly fly our flag in support of Black Lives like our neighbors have done since we’ve lived here for causes that matter to them. Thank you.Kara Wilkoff