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Water Xaris: Mother, Women’s Rights Activist, Fundraiser Extraordinaire

Water Xaris (right) with her wife Koriandir Xaris (left)

By Rosemary Lytle

Water Xaris had been a key leader on the Colorado Springs, Colorado “Womxns March”  leadership team for two years when environmental justice was added to the platform of ideas and actions to be discussed. As someone who grew up inspecting the “brown cloud” that hung over her hometown—the infamously polluted “Mile High City”—she knows environmental injustice very well.

At one time, Denver, Colorado’s brown cloud was such a national joke that a CBS sportscaster quipped, after the Broncos 1989 Super Bowl loss, that Denver had never been numero uno in anything—except carbon monoxide. A high-altitude, thin-oxygen city, Denver is in a river basin bounded on the West by the Continental Divide; a perfect recipe for winter smog.

In 1975, when Water was about 6 years old, Denver violated federal carbon monoxide standards 177 times. Even as a child, she knew her hometown was a polluted and odiferous city. “When I was growing up, you knew exactly where you were in Denver, based on whether or not you could smell the stench of pet food production at the Purina plant.”

It’s been documented that strong odors from industrial sources is a type of air pollution that affects residents of communities both physically and psychologically. There were reports that Denver’s smells woke some people up in the middle of the night, that they had headaches, that they had respiratory issues. Some endured it. Some moved out of the neighborhoods most affected altogether. “Even as a child, it was overbearing and some people just couldn’t take it.”

But it wasn’t until adulthood that Water left Denver behind as a home base. And like many people, this Mom of three grown sons moved, too—not to escape the pollution necessarily—but to follow her heart. She met her future wife Koriandir Xaris and because Koriandir, an electrician, was a business owner in the Springs, Water left the Mile High City and moved south to what is often called “The City Beautiful.”

Water Xaris (right) with her wife Koriandir Xaris (left)

Though the Springs is also at the top of the list for ugly air quality in Colorado, the two have had seven beautiful years of marriage. Water still works in the insurance industry—and she’s heavily involved in her community. She and Koriandir were attending the annual “Transgender Day of Remembrance” held at the city’s All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, when someone asked if they knew about the organizing committee for the Colorado Springs Womxn’s March. They were asked to attend the next meeting, decided to do so, and the rest—as they say—is herstory!

Water and Koriander became part of the small leadership group that organizes a huge march. They contributed time, talent, resources, ideas. They promoted the march among their friends and acquaintances. They became part of the public face as “marshalls” to guide marchers and ensure that they were safe as they participated.

The Springs march, started in 2017 as part of the national movement after the election of President Donald Trump, is designed to advocate for legislation and policies regarding human rights and other issues, including women’s rights, racial equality, immigration reform, healthcare reform, reproductive rights, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, worker rights and other issues.

When Stephanie Bowman, the Denver Climate Justice Organizer with Mothers Out Front, joined the committee in 2019, Water was inspired by her energy and intrigued by the addition of environmental justice as part of the platform. “Just the thought of it took me back to Denver and the smell of the Purina plant,” she says, “but I was excited.” Environmental justice is more relevant to her and her life journey than she had previously thought.

In addition to their busy professional and personal lives, Water and Koriandir were crowned in 2017 as Emperor and Empress of the United Court of the Pikes Peak Empire, an established fundraising super-nonprofit that raises money for other smaller nonprofit groups doing LGBTQ work. And she knows that raising money is what helps the world of community nonprofits go round.

In the year which comprised their official reign, Water, Koriandir, and their court, raised more than $20,000 for causes from empowerment for Queer youth, to mental health services, to support for mothers of murdered youth, to support for endangered girls. And, they raised that money having fun organizing and producing drag shows, karaoke nights, bingo parties, you name it—events that could draw people and bring in money. “We wish we had been able to do even more. There are so many organizations that could impact society if only they had the funds to do so.”

After this third year of working on the Womxns March, she could easily see them raising funds for another cause—environmental justice. Especially in these coronavirus pandemic times, leaving a livable planet for our children to inherit is much too important to leave to chance.

Water Xaris believes we all have to step up and do our part.

Rosemary Lytle, Frontline Communications Consultant for Mothers Out Front, is a columnist who worked in newspaper journalism for nearly 20 years.