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With the election of an LGBTQ governor and a strong show of support from queer people across the country, 2018 was a year of positive change and growth for the LGBTQ community. However, there is still a long way to go for queer folks to achieve full equality, and it’s not an easy road.

That’s why organizations like One Colorado are needed.

One Colorado is the state’s leading advocacy non-profit organization for LGBTQ Coloradans and their families. In 2018, they worked on passing two main bills and fought for queer rights across Colorado. However, the two main bills they pushed for at the capitol failed once again—ridding the state of conversion therapy and to simplify the process for the transgender folks to update their birth certificates.

“We’ve gotten constant support by the House, and when we get over to the Senate, the republican majority has killed every, single one of our priority bills,” Executive Director Daniel Ramos said.

Ramos has spent most of his career pushing for LGBTQ rights here in Colorado. He is a first-generation college graduate who was active in student government while studying sociology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

He worked on a congressional race in California before returning to Colorado, where he began working with One Colorado just one year after its formation. His first job involved building a state school program for LGBTQ youth. This involved working with school districts to update their policies, train educators, and empower students with gay-straight alliances.

Ramos then worked for three years as the organization’s political director, managing legislative and electoral policies. Once promoted to deputy director, he oversaw health care advocacy involving insurance discrimination and better access to care (especially for transgender people). He was named executive director in 2016.

He’s fought hard for both of these bills to pass ever since.

“We will be pushing on those bills again this year,” Ramos said.

The Fight Continues

“We will be strengthening the bill to ban conversion therapy to make sure that we don’t just ban it in Colorado, but that we eliminate the practice altogether. One, by making sure that practitioners understand the harms of conversion therapy. That it, in fact, does more harm than good. We see outcomes for LGBTQ youths subjected to conversion therapy where they have poor mental health, increased suicidal ideations, even increased attempts in suicide.”

Conversion therapy includes a range of dangerous and discredited practices aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These harmful practices are based on the false claim that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer is a mental illness that should be cured. The Human Rights Campaign states that adolescents rejected by their families for their sexual or gender identities are eight times more likely to attempt suicide compared to peers with greater support.

Currently, nine states have banned conversion therapy for minors, including California, New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, New Mexico, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Nevada.

Despite this struggle, there have been victories. The City of Denver unanimously passed a measure banning conversion therapy. The ban will be enforced by Denver’s Safety, Housing, Education, and Homelessness Committee, who will impose fines on those found to be in violation of the new ruling.

“We’ve used the birth certificate bill in the last four year as an opportunity to really talk about the challenges and experiences that transgender people face—the everyday harassment and discrimination that they experience, especially when they don’t have an identity document that matches who they are,” Ramos said.

Current Colorado law requires a person to have reassignment surgery in order to update the gender marker on their birth certificate to accurately reflect their lived gender. For many transgender people, this means the gender on their birth certificate will never be updated to reflect who they are because many people do not want, cannot afford, or do not need surgery.

It also means many transgender Coloradans will continue to face discrimination in employment, housing, and even exercising the fundamental right to vote until our law is fixed.

The federal government determined that requiring surgery to allow transgender people to update their gender on identification documents was onerous, and subsequently dropped the requirement for social security cards, driver’s licenses, and passports in 2010. People can now update their gender marker on federal documents with a letter from their qualified medical provider.

There are a variety of health disparities when it comes to the trans community. Discrimination and stigma affect the quality of care given to a patient, and on top of that, not being able to have a document matching a person’s visual appearance can lead to a variety of other obstacles.

“One other issue that is detrimental to the transgender community is the publication requirement. Currently, the law in Colorado is that, if you change your name, you have to have your new name published  in the newspaper three times,” Ramos said. Current law allows three exemptions to the requirement, though trans people can still be rejected by the court.

“If you’re a transgender personal living in rural Colorado, coming out in your little newspaper as transgender could increase the likelihood that you experience violence or harassment in your community. We want to eliminate these barriers.”

Ramos continued, “We’re going to take full advantage of this opportunity to continue to tell the story of the impacts that our bills will have. This will be the year when we get out bills through both chambers and watch our first gay governor sign both bills.”

Last Year’s Accomplishments

Even with the losses at the capitol, One Colorado had their share of accomplishments in 2018. One of the major ones was the reauthorization of the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The CCRD investigates claims of discrimination in areas of housing and public accommodations.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop incident in which Jack Phillips denied a gay couple a wedding cake was first handled by the CCRD, putting them in the national spotlight and under scrutiny. However, people believed that the organization was being biased and anti-religious in their claims that Phillips denied the cake because of who the couple was: a gay couple. A debate about how the CCRD should handle the situation followed and later an effort to completely defund of the CCRD.

In response to the defunding, One Colorado organized.

“After that happened, we threw a huge rally; we threw a huge press conference with the speaker and the former mayor and many other folks to really talk about the importance of the agency, that it is a Colorado value that people should not have to experience discrimination,” Ramos said.

“We joked that this was going to be one of the last things that we did, hoping that it wouldn’t be, and it in fact was one of the last things that happened in the legislature. I don’t think we got the bill through until 11 p.m. That was one big success.”

The Masterpiece Cakeshop again made the news when a transgender woman was denied a cake in honor of her birthday and coming out as trans.

“In the last couple years, we’ve had waves of what we call ‘Religious Exemption Bills,’ bills where people can claim that their religion allows them to ignore the law,” Ramos explained.

“A lot of what we’ve done is really work to build a strong coalition. We’ve built them with business groups, faith leaders, conservatives, district attorneys, and child and welfare agencies. Now, we really have the opportunity to amplify what we’ve built over the last couple of years,” Ramos said.

Photo by Brian Degenfelder