Brad Allen grew up in a cult in southern Missouri.
During his formative years, he was forced to live under strict guidelines like not wearing short sleeve shirts, no television or movies, and absolutely never receiving medical attention from doctors. To break these guidelines meant certain expulsion from the religious group.
When his father fell ill and sought the help from a doctor his family was excommunicated from the hyper conservative religion. But, with the new found freedom came a void. A void that he attempted to fill by joining the ranks of Focus on the Family while attending college.
Focus on the Family is one of the most well funded anti-queer organizations in America. They invest in public education campaigns against LGBTQ equality, while their related organization CitizenLink supports radical anti-queer candidates who work against basic civil rights and legal protections. They also promote the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy, claiming “just as there are many paths that may lead a person to experience same-sex attractions, there are likewise multiple ways out.”
For years, they were behind Love Won Out, a national tour preaching that same-sex attraction is ‘preventable and treatable.’
Despite being tangled to an anti-queer organization, Brad first opened up about his homosexuality while at Focus on the Family.
“It was a weirdly positive experience for me,” Brad says. “Focus on the Family was liberal from where I came from, and it was the first time I could actually talk openly about my sexuality. Before I was too concerned with all these other restrictions that there was no way I was going to discuss being gay.”
After his “liberating” semester at Focus on the Family, he moved on to Exodus International — an organization whose mission was to ‘help’ gay Christians become straight through conversion therapy. The president at the time invited Brad to come work for Exodus’ small team once he finished school. So … he did.
For about a year, he worked for the biggest “Pray the Gay Away” organization in the country; building a network of churches across the nation that agreed with Exodus’ mission and would help queer people reallocate their attractions to the opposite sex.
All of this began to take a toll on his psyche, and at age 31 he began to plan the perfect suicide.
“I planned to make it look like an accidental car crash,” Brad says. “I set it up to where I wouldn’t hurt anyone else and I would become another dead, gay Christian. I gave it a week and put it in God’s hands. If he didn’t want me to go through with it, then I would change the way I lived my life to be more open and accepting of myself.”
One day into the week, Brad got the sign he asked for. Nothing spectacular happened, but he could feel a weight lifted off of his shoulders — that was enough. With new-found confidence, Brad found the courage to come out as gay. It didn’t come easy as his church and most of his peers shunned him, but a new adventure of finding himself began.
Although he never underwent any sort of physical conversion therapy, the effects of being told repeatedly that his attractions were “unnatural” or “misguided wants” shaped him.
Today, Brad is happily engaged and works with queer youth at Urban Peak, the only non-profit organization in Denver that provides a full convergence of services for youth ages 15 through 24 experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk of becoming homeless.
“I’ve worked tirelessly to rid myself of the shame that nearly robbed me of my life and help others understand that there is no belief that is worth their lives,” he said. “I pray daily that the deadly and discredited practice of conversion therapy would be banned forever so that LGBTQ people can stop hating themselves, shaming themselves, and killing themselves in the name of therapy.”
His prayers aren’t the only contributions he sends out to the world. Brad has been working with One Colorado for years to help ban conversion therapy in Colorado, an attempt that has been sent to “kill committees” in the state’s Senate after being passed in the House. A kill committee is used when a controversial bill is sent to a committee that will vote against passing it along. The majority leader assigns these bills, and republicans have held that position for years — 2016’s election did not change that.
“We, once again, are working an uphill battle,” One Colorado’s Director Daniel Ramos says. “That doesn’t mean that we are going to stop fighting, it just gives us a perspective of how aggressive and resilient we have to be this year.”
One Colorado is the only organization in the state that gives a voice to queer people at the State Capitol. They fight to pass bills that help the community, and fight legislation such as religious freedom or transgender bathroom bills that would set the community back.
Since marriage was nationally legalized in 2015, One Colorado’s objective has been to ban conversion therapy and change the restrictions in place in order for transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificate.
They’re battles still needing to be fought in Colorado.
“We’re going to continue to garner bipartisan support in the House, and hopefully pass these bills through the Senate as well,” Daniel says. “But, it is unlikely because we did not win back a pro-equality majority in 2016’s election.”
While many of the the pro-equality champions One Colorado endorsed during last year’s election won their races and have vowed to stand up for Colorado queers at the Capitol, voters did not elect a pro-equality majority in the state’s Senate.
Unfortunately, it was the Senate who failed to pass the ban on conversion therapy and blocked the bill that would allow transgender people to, with a doctor’s note, have their birth certificate changed to reflect their gender identity.
Todd Garrity, a local acupuncturists and trans activist whose passion surrounds preventing trans suicides, has been fighting to pass the birth certificate bill for years. Working closely with multiple queer organizations in Colorado and speaking publicly to educate healthcare providers, PFLAG groups, and spiritual communities on transgender issues — whether it be mental healthcare, ‘trans 101,’ or working with families on transitioning — Todd is dedicating his life to saving members of the trans community.
His private practice helps patients struggling with suicidal ideations find emotional balance by aiding them with a multitude of holistic therapies such as meditation, acupuncture, herbs, essential oils, and breathing techniques to gain greater self-control of their emotions. His lectures and workshops for medical providers assist them in providing more welcoming and inclusive care to their transgender patients. Lectures focus on understanding gender variations, pronoun usage, terminology, intake forms and SOAP notes, patient communication, and local referrals for transgender care.
Todd is also trans man who has been through the process of changing his identity documents to match his gender.
“The birth certificate modernization bill hits very close to home for me,” Todd says. “I went through a very lengthy battle with the court systems in Florida — going back and forth because of the different laws surrounding the way it is done.”
Current Colorado law requires a person to have “sex reassignment surgery (SRS)” 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.
“Surgeries, like those required by the state of Colorado to update gender on a birth certificate, are highly invasive procedures performed by very few surgeons in this country — making access to surgery challenging and cost prohibitive,” Todd says.
Additionally, these surgeries leave an individual sterile, can have serious complications, and many transgender patients may not qualify for surgery for health reasons.
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.
“No person should have to undergo surgery or accept sterilization as a condition of identity recognition,” Dr. Jamison Green, President of The World Professional Association for Transgender Health says. “If a sex marker is required on an identity document, that marker could recognize the person’s lived gender, regardless of reproductive capacity. The WPATH Board of Directors urges governments and other authoritative bodies to move to eliminate requirements for identity recognition that require surgical procedures.”
For the past two years, the bills challenging this outdated, invasive law has been struck by the Senate as they send it to committees that refuse to put it on the floor.
“Alongside running those two bills again, we will continue to be visible and vocal in the legislature,” Ramos says. “We will continue to tell the stories of transgender people who can not get an identity document that matches who they are, and the LGBTQ Coloradans who have experienced conversion therapy.”
One Colorado will continue to work with the queer champions — and growing number of allies — in Colorado’s legislature to make sure these bills don’t get sent to kill committees this year.
But, they can not do this alone.
On February 27, LGBTQ Coloradans, their families, and allies are taking over the State Capitol for the annual LGBTQ Lobby Day. From 8:30am to 2pm, queers from all around the state will get the opportunity to speak directly to our elected officials about bills directly affecting our community. One Colorado will provide food and training for all involved.