Anna Sher Simon exchanged vows with her wife, Fran Simon, four times and testified for years in front of lawmakers in Colorado before their marriage was legally recognized.
The Simons are the de facto face of the marriage equality fight in Colorado and made history in 2013 as the first same-sex couple in the state to get a civil union and the first in Denver to be legally married in 2014.
“Our wedding picture hangs in the Denver County Clerk’s office. A picture from our civil union ceremony hangs in the mayor’s office,” said Anna Simon, a 1991 Earlham College graduate who earned degrees in biology and art. “It has been a tremendous honor to be recognizedin these ways.”
Together for nearly 20 years, the couple have made dozens of media appearances, including photos of the couple and their son on the front page of newspapers across the state, and have been lauded by the Colorado LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce for their service. Last year, the City and County of Denver created a short film about the Simon family for their “I Am Denver” project, and re-posted it on social media this month in honor of Pride.
“We are very blessed to be a part of a lot of different communities and that all of those communities have supported our marriage,” Anna said. “What makes us such a strong partnership is that our strengths are so complimentary. We have a solid foundation of shared values—as Jews, as social activists, as very family-oriented people—and we’re able to use our different personalities to do wonderful things together.
“This was all unimaginable just a few decades ago.”
Anna’s Earlham education has proven crucial in her journey. As a student, she was one of the co-writers of a proposal to establish the College’s first theme house for LGBTQ community members. “It was considered too bold back then to include ‘gay’ in the name, but we were explicit in our purpose,” Anna remembers.
“It was really at Earlham where I began to believe it is my responsibility to fight for social justice and affect change,” she continued. “The Quaker ideology of universal equality and the Jewish idea of ‘tikkun olam,’ which means repairing the world, were mutually reinforcing values for me.”
As a student at Earlham, Anna participated in her first March on Washington D.C. for pro-choice, was instrumental in getting the “B” for bisexual added to the then-Lesbian Gay Peoples Union, and attended rallies to end apartheid in South Africa, among other political acts. She was co-president of the Earlham student body at a time when they were pressing for protections for lesbian and gay faculty. After graduating, she attended her first Gay March on Washington while she was working for Earlham’s biology department with fellow alumni.
“All of those things really led me here.”
Eight years after their history-making wedding at the Denver City & County Building, the couple’s concerns have turned toward a leaked decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision allowing access to abortions. Legal experts warn that the Court’s decision could establish a precedent to overturn other landmark laws, including ones governing same-sex marriage. They were recently interviewed by local news outlets on this topic.
“Unfortunately, we have to protect the rights that we already have,” Anna said. “We can’t take any of that for granted.
“Our primary focus is getting people elected who support equal rights. That is key,” she said. “We are fortunate enough to be able to donate money and time, helping with fundraisers, speaking at rallies and putting up signs. All of that is important.”
In her professional life, Anna is a full professor in the Department of Biological
Sciences at the University of Denver. She was the first mother in her department to receive tenure in the university’s 100-plus year history and is passionate about gender equality in STEM. She is currently leading a program funded by a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to increase the hiring, retention, and promotion of women and other underrepresented faculty in STEM at DU.
“I think the key to leading a meaningful life is making a positive difference in the world,” she said. “I feel a moral obligation to leave the world a better place. And I have Earlham to thank for my clarity about that.”
Photos courtesy of the Simon family. Lead photo by Evan Semón.