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Group Trying To Make Trans And Queer Haven In Colorado Says They're Facing Harassment

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Colorado now and a story about neighbors and fences. The owners of the Tenacious Unicorn sheep and alpaca ranch say they have had to build a high fence around their property because of harassment. They are trans, and they say their conservative neighbors won't accept them. Colorado Public Radio's Dan Boyce reports.

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DAN BOYCE, BYLINE: Eight-foot-tall wooden fence posts - 2 feet in the ground, 6 above.

BONNIE NELSON: So right now, we have around 360 posts.

BOYCE: Tenacious Unicorn Ranch co-owner Bonnie Nelson expects they'll probably need another couple hundred to erect the tall wire fence completely around their 40 acres of dry pastureland.

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BOYCE: Nelson and co-owner Penny Logue are both wearing black ball caps and layers of worn work clothes. It's a cold morning. And as always, they have semiautomatic pistols strapped to their thighs. Mess with us, Nelson says, and we'll mess back.

NELSON: All we want is to be left alone.

PENNY LOGUE: We're a group of trans women trying to create a haven for trans people.

BOYCE: Penny Logue says they're building a commune where LGBTQ people can feel safe and welcome and isolated from discrimination they say they face in traditional cisgender society.

SHANNON BYERLY: I mean, 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 were in jeopardy.

BOYCE: That's Custer County Sheriff Shannon Byerly. He says the ranchers haven't really been all that hospitable since moving in last year. He says most residents didn't even know they were here initially.

BYERLY: And then all a sudden this newspaper article comes out and they - well, I don't want to put words in their mouths, but, you know, they just were pretty disparaging about the citizens in general in Custer County.

BOYCE: In numerous press accounts, Logue details severe online threats, multiple instances of local harassment and even armed trespassing on the property itself. Sheriff Byerly says his office was never contacted about these incidents. He says the security fortifications the ranchers are installing do not indicate they want to be part of the community.

BYERLY: I don't think they did themselves any favors by taking that approach.

BOYCE: Some local conservatives say the ranchers are exaggerating their claims of persecution in order to bring in large amounts of cash through online fundraising. The ranch's latest effort on the website GoFundMe currently stands at more than $115,000. Penny Logue calls this criticism a straw man argument. Logue says they've tried to form bonds with their neighbors through recycling efforts, doing handiwork, starting a community garden in Westcliffe. She says it's just there's a small group of locals who make their lives difficult.

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

BOYCE: The new fence will add security to the ranch on top of recently installed surveillance cameras.

LOGUE: I think that we can, when we choose to engage, be out in the community engaging. And when we shut our gates - because this world is a little bit much sometimes.

BOYCE: When that happens, she says, they should get to leave the outside world behind just like anyone else.

For NPR News, I'm Dan Boyce in Westcliffe, Colo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANNA MEREDITH'S "MGMS CLASS OF 2017") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.