All photos by Hannah-Marie Wayne

Near the rural town of Westcliffe, Colorado, transgender alpaca rancher Penny Logue runs a queer-safe haven on a gravel county road flanked by patches of sagebrush. She says that her queerness and ranching lifestyle, which includes gun rights activism, are not at opposite ideological poles, regardless of stereotypes. 

“I think the prevailing attitude is that those two are separate,” Logue said. “Queer people are aching to get back to nature. There’s been an assumption that we’re all used to city life… because a lot of queer people were chased out of their small rural towns.” 

The reality is that many queer people seek a rural commune experience, said Logue, whose ranch also acts as a refuge for LGBTQ+ individuals in a variety of challenging circumstances.  

People often confuse llamas with alpacas, but the easiest way to tell the difference between the two is to look at their ears. Alpacas have shorter straighter ears, while llama ears are curved like bananas.

She insists that queer people do not need permission to exist in rural spaces. In fact, queer folks have always lived in rural America and a 2021 Daily Yonder analysis even reveals that the rates of LGBTQ+ individuals in rural places parallels that of metro areas. 

“We should be out here,” she said. “I think that it’s been assumed that we’re not welcome [in rural areas]. And we need to make ourselves welcome. And that’s uncomfortable for a lot of people.” 

But Logue suggests that hate is not a rural phenomenon.

“They hate queers in the city, they hate queers in the country, they hate queers in the suburbs, they’re gonna just hate queer folk, everywhere,” Logue said. “So we just have to show up and do our thing.”

There are two breeds of alpacas – Huacaya and Suri. While Huacayas produce fluffy fiber, a Suri alpaca’s hair grows similar to dreadlocks. Most alpacas at the ranch are Huacayas. 

And Penny showed up near Westcliffe three years ago with her business partner, Bonnie Nelson, to rescue alpaca herds and give them a permanent home. They shear the animals annually in the summer both to harvest their fiber that produces luxury yarn and because alpacas require routine haircuts to keep them from overheating. We came to the farm shortly before their yearly haircut, and some alpacas need it more than others. 

The adorable face of an alpaca who desperately needs a shearing, or at the very least an eyebrow trim.

Although the ranch is not a purposeful breeding operation, they have had quite a few surprise babies. 

“We’ve never had a planned pregnancy,” Logue said. “The boys are just really good at getting over the fence during mating season… We have at least one [baby] every year.” 

The male alpacas gathered near a pile of hay along the fenceline batting their eyelashes, noses pointed to the sky. They are perhaps the only animals captivating enough to steal the thunder from the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range that breaks Southwest of the ranch in a blue haze. 

One particularly vivacious alpaca named Pepe le Pew stood apart from the rest of the pack and peered into the female paddock. Logue said he likes to stare at the ladies and smack his lips to get their attention. 

Violence Against the Trans Community

During our interview, the ranch was peaceful except for the occasional rooster crow. But things do not always feel that serene. 

“We have a couple of neighbors that threaten violence on a routine basis,” Logue said.

And she is not alone. Reports demonstrate increasing violence against transgender people as 2021 ranked as the deadliest year for the trans community globally. 

“There’s websites out there that specifically focus on trans hate. And we tripped a lot of those radars when we started this project. And we’ve been under that scrutiny from the beginning,” Logue said. “We get drone flyovers probably monthly. Those photos all get posted to the internet. And then you know, all the death threats that go along with that, like “I know where you live.” We’re on Google. Of course you know where we live.”

According to Logue, local law enforcement officials are not interested in taking violent threats seriously. Custer County Sheriff Shannon Byerly was caught in a lie covered by Reuters journalist Leah Millis in 2021. Byerly claimed that while approaching the ranch to investigate a car accident, a ranch hand greeted him at the gate, armed and confrontational. But body-cam footage tells a different story. 

“The sheriff had said that we met him at the gate in a confrontation and when we just pulled the body cam footage because we’re like, yeah … we met you willingly,” Logue said.

The body cam showed an unarmed and pajama-clad ranch hand meeting Byerly at the front gate. Byerly will not be running for Sheriff again this year after seven years of service. 

Despite occasional threats, neighbors are mostly kind. 

Penny picks up a young alpaca for us to pet. Alpacas are mostly friendly and docile animals.

“It’s a very small percentage of people that are violently angrily opposed to our existence here. You just assert yourself and stay positive and friendly,” Logue said.  

Logue combats violence and discrimination by setting up her ranch as a refuge for queer people seeking a safe place to land. Some people who stay at the ranch cannot work, but for those who are willing and able, Logue offers vocational training and ranching apprenticeships. Queer folks in need come from all over the country to live and work at the ranch. 

“One girl [that came] had a broken foot. But she was dropped off in the woods by some people in a known white supremacist area. And we got a call and had to like drive in and [get her],” Logue said. 

Looking to the Future 

“We have more work than we can do,” Logue boasts of her new drywalling business. “And that’s opened up a lot of opportunities to where we’re able to consider a big property.”

Logue is thinking about purchasing a 120 acre parcel in the valley that is all grassland, an ideal alpacas which are grazing animals.

“It allows us to take in another 400 alpacas and plus produce hay.” 

Pulling out of the property with the ranch on the left are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the gravel county road. 

The day after our interview, parts of Colorado received a late May snow storm that forced farmers and ranchers to cope with unseasonably cold weather. Logue and her team wrapped lambs in small coats to protect them from the cold. But the coming weeks will bring warmer temperatures and the perfect conditions to welcome a shearing day. Come summertime, the alpacas at Tenacious Unicorn will flaunt their fresh haircuts as the ranch continues to welcome those needing a safe place to rest or cuddle an unplanned baby alpaca, or both.

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