As 2017 legislative sessions have begun nationwide, many states are preparing to pass "bathroom bills" aimed at restricting transgender people's use of public restrooms and locker rooms to those that match their gender identity. In Colorado, the passage of Senate Bill 200 in 2008 put an end to that debate. Transgender people here are legally allowed to use the restrooms, locker rooms and public accommodations that match their gender identity. Since the law's passage, the dramatic invasion of privacy that lawmakers in states like North Carolina and Virginia have loudly complained of has not come to pass.
In recent years, celebrities like Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner and Jazz Jennings have brought the term "transgender" to family dinner tables throughout America, inspiring consternation amongst social conservatives. In reaction to this newfound "trans visibility," dozens of mothballed culture warriors emerged from their caves into the light of 2016, wringing their hands, clutching their pearls, and imploring Americans to "think of the children." In addition to North Carolina's infamous House Bill 2, 18 other states introduced similar legislation. "Trans visibility" led to a wave of regressive legislation aimed at further marginalizing trans people.
This national trend has had little legal effect on trans people in Colorado, but has contributed to a general sense of anxiety. Using a public restroom will always be a fraught experience for me, despite the fact that I am not breaking any laws by doing so. Colorado's public accommodations bill protects people from discrimination on both the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. My apologies to the dude who wore a hilarious wig and stood outside the Target on Powers to protest the company's commitment to gender-inclusive facilities, but you were wasting your time.
As with all civil rights campaigns, Colorado's public accommodations bill and anti-discrimination ordinances were achieved through the hard work of activists and advocates. One of those activists is longtime Colorado Springs resident Nancy-Jo Morris.
Morris came out to her wife and family as transgender in 1999. It was a time when protections for LGB people were uncommon, let alone for people on the transgender spectrum. With a lack of family support, Morris spent three years attending a sort of 12-step reparative therapy, which she describes as a kind of "hell." Instead of relieving her gender dysphoria, it left her feeling suicidal.
Despite opposition from the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, reparative therapy — which aims to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity and can include electroshock treatment in extreme cases — is currently legal in 45 states, including Colorado. (Colorado Republican lawmakers have repeatedly blocked legislation in recent years aimed at making the treatment, also called "conversion therapy," illegal for minors.)
Following her unsuccessful attempt to change her gender identity, Morris decided to medically transition in 2004. For many trans people, the decision to live authentically exacts a terrible cost. For Morris that cost was her marriage and her career as a civil engineer. In 2006, two months after receiving "the highest bonus they had ever given anyone," Morris was let go by her employer. When she attempted to appeal her termination with the Department of Labor and Employment she was told that "transgender people didn't have any legal standing" to claim workplace discrimination. Before leaving, Morris told her employer, "You'll never be able to do this to anybody else for the same reason."
Working with the now-defunct Pride Center of Colorado Springs and Equal Rights Colorado, Morris took part in efforts to author and pass legislation to protect transgender people in Colorado. During the 2007 legislative session, Morris advocated for the inclusion of gender identity in the labor protection law, which only covered sexual orientation at the time. In 2008, Morris again took part in efforts to pass Senate Bill 200, which would become the Colorado Public Accommodations Act. SB 200 prevented discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and amended previous anti-discrimination legislation to include gender identity.
Despite the efforts of conservative groups like Focus on the Family, who ran a vicious media campaign smearing trans women as rapists and pedophiles, SB 200 was passed into law in May 2008. Since the passage of the public accommodations law in Colorado the sky has not fallen, dogs and cats have not lain together, and mobs of garishly clad trans people have not descended upon the public toilets of Colorado to defile the purity of the state's cisgender women and children. Virginia, Texas, Kentucky and all states introducing anti-trans "bathroom bills" in 2017, please take note.