DENVER (CBS4)– As CBS4 celebrates Black History Month, CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd talked to a state representative who is making history. Rep. Leslie Herod took the state Legislature by storm when was she was elected four years ago.

(credit: Leslie Herod)

As the first Black gay woman to serve in the General Assembly, she says, her charge was clear, “To make sure that the people casting those votes knew how those votes impacted communities like mine.”

An attorney, Herod homed in on criminal justice and was already pushing for police reform when George Floyd and Elijah McClain were killed.

“I was done with letting them change on their own,” she said of law enforcement.

She passed the Police Integrity and Accountability Act that made sweeping changes including an end to Qualified Immunity.

“I watched the votes come up on the board and the bill passed… that was probably a very surreal moment for me because I knew that we were going to make an impact.”

(credit: Leslie Herod)

The changes don’t stop there. Herod has restored voting rights for parolees, ended cash bail for low-level offenses, and de-felonized possession of drugs for personal use.

“The war on drugs was really a war on people of color and low-income people.”

While she is a force to be reckoned with at the state Capitol, Herod says becoming a lawmaker once seemed as remote as becoming a princess. One of her defining moments came in the fourth grade.

“I had my first black teacher and I was coloring a princess and I wanted to show her that I found a trick, that I could take the orange crayon and use it lightly and that would be more like skin color. She said, ‘That’s great, it looks good, but your brown crayon works just as well.’”

Her life experience has influenced her legislative work. She passed a budget amendment to provide free tampons to women in prison. Her sister was once one of them. She also passed a bill to bar discrimination based on a person’s hairstyle after she was told she’d have to straighten her hair to be a cheerleader.

Leslie Herod (credit: CBS)

“To this day, you know, I cannot see a young girl, who may be the cheerleader who was she had to straighten her hair one more time before I take action. We passed the Crown Act,” said Herod. “I’m here to start breaking down those barriers brick by brick and whatever brick looks like one that’s a little shaken loose, I’m going to pull it out until we have a Colorado that is equitable for everybody.”

Now a member of the powerful Joint Budget Committee, she says she’s just getting started.

“Most fearful of is waking up and realizing that I’m not enough. A lot of folks see me as an extremely confident woman, walking through it and taking care of it all. Sometimes my knees do shake, I don’t know what I’m going to say or what I’m going to do. It doesn’t stop me from moving forward. I don’t think little Leslie imagined that she would be sitting here but I also can’t imagine where I’m going to be in 20 more years and so let’s keep breaking those ceilings and see where we go.”

Shaun Boyd