Corky Blankenship, a longtime activist in Denver’s LGBTQ community, dies at 76

Corky Blankenship, a Denver native and a longtime activist in the Denver LGBTQ community, died Friday morning in Denver Health Medical Center of COVID-19. He was 76.

“Corky will be remembered for his love of life and his devotion to causes like homelessness and human rights,” said The Center on Colfax on Instagram.

Blankenship was living in San Francisco when Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to any office, was assassinated, shot dead on Nov. 27, 1978. Blankenship told The Denver Post that he was on the verge of tears all day when Milk was killed.

When Colorado Gov. Jared Polis was sworn into office on Jan. 8, 2019, the first openly gay governor elected to lead a state, Blankenship, like so many people, was elated.

“I’ve never been happier,” he said. “It’s from one end of the spectrum to the other. From one end of the rainbow to the other.”

On Friday, Polis mourned Blankenship’s death.

“I was so saddened to hear of Corky’s passing. I think almost every gay man in Denver knew Corky for his upbeat spirit, and age-defying energy at all hours of the day and night,” Polis said in a statement. “The loss of Corky, one of our gay elders, is a loss for not only the LGBT+ community but for all Colorado. Corky’s support for equal rights and advocacy for those who are less fortunate including those experiencing homeless made a big difference in our community.”

Blankenship volunteered with and was a board member of Feeding Denver’s Hungry.

“I’m retired so always busy, devoting time to my family, volunteering & going out dancing with friends!” Blankenship said on the program’s website. “Being a member of the FDH Board is very fulfilling knowing that Jim (Scharper) has created an organization that helps so many individuals and families receive the assistance they desperately need.”

Blankenship was well known for throwing lavish and celebratory pool parties in Denver around PrideFest as a fundraising effort for the LGBTQ community.

“He was always so passionate about our younger members in the community and about us doing are part to show how inclusive Denver is as a city,” said DeMarcio Slaughter, entertainment coordinator with The Center on Colfax and master of ceremonies with PrideFest.

A diminutive man, standing a bit over 5 feet tall, Blankenship had a personality and presence that filled a room, DeMarcio said.

“At the clubs, he was always the first person on the dance floor and the last person off,” DeMarcio recalled with a joyful laugh. “His personality was electric and he was very kind. I never heard him say anything bad about anybody.”

Blankenship was taken to Denver Health Medical Center last week and was being treated in the ICU, said Scharper, his close friend and colleague. He died early on Friday morning.

Scharper said Blankenship, a retired teacher, was a longtime volunteer with the Denver Dumb Friends League.

“There was not a pet out there that he didn’t like,” Scharper said. As for people. “He was a friend to everybody and everybody who knew him loved him.”

Memorial contributions may be made to Feeding Denver’s Hungry, the Denver Dumb Friend’s League, and Rainbow Alley.

Community members are planning a citywide celebration of life for Friday, Feb. 26, to take place at multiple clubs and community spots around Denver, Scharper said.

“It will be a Friday night party for Corky,” Scharper said. “It’s going to be several events across town, the biggest fundraiser Denver has ever seen.”

Plans are calling for multiple sites as a way to avoid an extremely large gathering because of the pandemic.

“With COVID-19, we can’t get together at one place, it will be citywide with multiple venues.”

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