Anti-LGBTQ bills doomed to die. Advocates say they still take a toll

A majority of GOP state representatives signed on to at least one of six anti-LGBTQ bills, including one criminalizing transgender health care

Left to right: Vicki and her daughter, Jaida, and Jaida's friend, Aliya, came to the Capitol to oppose anti-LGBTQ bills on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. (Photo by John Herrick)

A year ago, Jaida began taking medicine to block her hormones and increase her estrogen levels in her transition from male to female. The 16-year-old from Denver said she feels like herself now. 

She said she would rather be getting ready for an ‘80s dance party at her high school. But she came to the Colorado Capitol on Thursday to speak out against a bill that would make it a felony for doctors to provide the medication she’s been receiving to a minor. She said she was uncomfortable providing her last name.  

“It’s a lot of anxiety. I feel like confidence is the key. And saying that I’m comfortable being myself, especially when they are trying to say ‘you’re too young to make that choice’ or ‘you’re too young to do that.’” 

The bill, HB-1114, which defines transgender-affirming health care as “mutilation and sterilization,” is one of a half dozen anti-LGBTQ bills that Republican lawmakers introduced this year. Another bill restricts transgender kids from participating in school sports. Another would allow businesses to discriminate based on a customer’s sexual identity. Another seeks to ban same-sex marriage. Some of the policy ideas, like the so-called Live and Let Live Act, were modeled by national groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Arizona-based Christain organization that advocates for religious freedom and that represented the Lakewood baker in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case

The bills, which advocates say represent a record number for the decade, together have the support of 17 of the 24 House Republicans. On Thursday, there were over one hundred people there to testify on the bills in a committee hearing lasting hours. All will be voted down. Democrats, who oppose the bills, control both chambers and the governor’s office.

Despite the foregone conclusion, the bills stir some angst among those in the LGBTQ community. Some advocates said they slept little the night before. They worried the debate would be hurtful. Some were hurt already. 

“One [HB-1114] really does attack me personally,” said Brianna Titone, a Democrat from Arvada who is Colorado’s first openly transgender lawmaker. “When I saw all the [lawmakers’] names on there, I found all the people that did not sign on and I wrote them a personal note to thank them for not doing that.” 

Sheena Kadi, deputy director of One Colorado, the advocacy organization for the LGBTQ community, said she would rather be working on the group’s HIV medications bill. 

“I’m gonna show up for our community any day,” said Julian Camera, an organizer for ACLU Colorado. “But I’d rather be advancing our rights and creating laws that are more inclusive when it comes to healthcare for trans folks.”

People lined up to testify on a package of anti-LGBTQ and religious freedom bills on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. (Photo by John Herrick)

Jaida, who was waiting in the halls of the Capitol, said she had to mentally prepare for her testimony. Were Republican lawmakers to pass this bill, she said, she would have to stop all of her medication and abandon her plan to get sexual reassignment surgery. 

“If I can’t get that surgery to be myself that will really mess me up. That will really mess me up,” she said. She paused. A tear fell down her cheek. “I’ve already told my mom. I don’t think I’ll make it out alive.” 

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Rep. Shane Sandridge, a Catholic Republican from Colorado Springs, checking who signed up to testify on his bills dealing with transgender youth on Feb. 13, 2020. (Photo by John Herrick)

Rep. Shane Sandridge is a Catholic Republican from Colorado Springs. He’s sponsoring HB-1114, the bill to penalize doctors who provide transgender health care, and another bill, HB-1273, that would prohibit transgender athletes from participating in female athletic teams in grades six through 12. 

He said he’s not concerned about the impact of the bills he’s proposed on the mental health of transgender youth. 

“What I’m worried about,” Sandridge said, “is a progression of acceptance of young kids being sterilized, having their penises cut off and then wondering why their parents allowed them to do it.” 

“If you look at the research, kids with gender dysphoria, right when they find out, they’re suicidal. If they get the surgery, they’re suicidal. Even if they choose not to get surgery, they’re suicidal. Basically, if you have gender dysphoria, you’re suicidal,” he said. 

The advocacy group One Colorado surveyed the health needs and experiences of 2,500 LGBTQ Coloradans and found disproportionately high rates of anxiety and depression. 

Sandridge said that, by trade, he’s a clinical psychotherapist for youth. He said he provides therapy to kids in the criminal justice system and those dealing with a divorce in a family, among other issues. He does not practice sexual orientation conversion therapy, but voted against a bill last session that would have banned it for youth. 

Sandridge was standing in the hall waiting for his bills to come up for debate in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. He said he knows they will be voted down. Rep. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a Democrat from Lafayette who vice-chairs the committee, said she led the first LGBTQ pride marches in South Carolina and North Carolina in the 1980s when protesters were lining the streets and holding shotguns. She called the anti-LGBTQ bill package the “hate slate.” 

“It’s kind of shocking that I still have to fight all these years later,” Jaquez Lewis said. 

At a rally organized by One Colorado ahead of the meeting, advocates and lawmakers used the bills as a rallying cry. 

Rep. Leslie Herod, a Democrat from Denver, said that not only will the bills die, but lawmakers also will pass a bill that will ban “gay and trans panic” defenses, which are used to excuse violent or lethal behavior toward LGBTQ people. She issued a warning to Republicans who continue to bring anti-LGBTQ bills to the legislature. 

“We are here, we are queer and we’re not going away,” Herod said. “And if you continue to bring these bills forward, we will see you at the ballot box.”

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