From electing the nation’s first out, gay governor to voting in an unprecedented number of LGBTQ state lawmakers, Colorado has a lot to celebrate this Pride. The state’s so-called Rainbow Wave is paying off.
“This was a historic [legislative] session for LGBTQ Coloradans and their families,” said Daniel Ramos, the executive director of One Colorado.
By historic, the long-time activist means more LGBTQ rights bills became law this year than ever before. And what makes this legislative session so unusual is the number of conservative lawmakers who crossed party lines to approve two measures that have failed time and time again.
“The strong bipartisan support of both of these bills further demonstrates that LGBTQ equality should be a nonpartisan issue, and we applaud the republicans who stood with our community,” he said.
One took four years, the other five. Until now, they were voted down each and every year. But this session, a measure to ban conversion therapy and a bill to make it easier for transgender Coloradans to update their identification finally made it through.
“It may have taken us five years to get this bill passed, but every long drive to get to the capital, every ‘no’ vote, and every senator that would not look us in the eyes have all been worth it, because today we have all changed the lives of transgender Coloradans,” said Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, co-chair of the LGBTQ caucus and senate prime sponsor.
Named Jude’s Law after a transgender girl who began testifying on behalf of the measure at the age of 9, it allows Coloradans to update the gender on their birth certificate without surgery, a doctor’s note, or a court order. It also makes it easier to change one’s name to reflect one’s gender.
“I feel very grateful and fortunate that we are one step closer to achieving basic rights for transgender people,” said the now-13-year-old Jude, who’s last name is not published for safety reasons.
Residents can now choose between M, F, or X as gender identifiers when updating a birth certificate. Colorado is now one of only three states to have non-binary gender options for both birth certificates and driver’s licenses.
“This bill is about personal freedom,” said Representative Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, co-chair of the LGBTQ caucus and house prime sponsor. “Not having updated ID documents interferes with the ability of transgender Coloradans to live their lives openly and honestly and to be their authentic selves.”
Being their authentic selves is something the state’s teenagers will have an easier time doing thanks to the conversion ban. It bars doctors and state-licensed mental health providers from using the discredited practice on minors to try and change their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Conversion therapy is not backed by science and has been proven to be harmful to our LGBT+ youth,” said Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder. He was the bill’s prime sponsor.
“There is nothing to ‘fix’; They should not feel ashamed of who they are. After working for years to pass this bill, I am proud that we are finally going to protect our LGBT youth and ban the dangerous practice of conversion once in for all in Colorado,” he said.
State republicans blocked the conversion ban for the last three years. But this year, three senate republicans and two house republicans joined democrats in voting for it. “Protecting our LGBTQ youth is not a partisan issue,” said Ramos.
Also approved, a sex education bill that prohibits teachers from using gender norms or gender stereotypes. It also allows teachers to recognize LGBTQ relationships and/or sexual experiences in the classroom.
Why the success? An unprecedented six LGBTQ candidates ran for a seat in the Colorado state house, and all of them won, including the state’s very first transgender lawmaker. Colorado also saw more LGBTQ people running for city and county positions than ever before. This translated into more support for LGBTQ rights.
Governor Jared Polis, D-Colorado, also became the country’s first openly gay man elected governor, ensuring approved legislation is signed into law.
Yet, with all the gains, there is still more to be done.
One Colorado recently updated its 2011 LGBTQ health assessment and found, despite legal advancements, members of the community now report higher rates of harassment and discrimination; worse health, mental, and behavioral outcomes; and greater barriers to health care.
“Just because LGBTQ Coloradans have health insurance doesn’t mean that it’s accessible and affirming care for those in our community,” said Sheena Kadi, deputy director, One Colorado. This month, the agency launched Closing the Gap: The Turning Point for LGBTQ Health, a new initiative for the coming year. Let’s hope that 2020 holds just as many gains for queer people.