Donald Trump's first months in office have felt like a lifetime, and our president and congressional Republicans have already launched a full-scale war on LGBTQ Americans, women, people of color, the poor and other minority communities. While D.C. may be more than a thousand miles away, we feel the impact of Washington politics here in Colorado and across the country. More than 100 bills targeting LGBTQ people and their families were introduced this spring in red and blue states alike from all corners of the country, including here in Colorado.
As the Colorado state legislative session comes to an end for the year, the Colorado LGBT Caucus and their allies leave the capital to return to their constituents with both victories and losses in tow. A coalition of the six openly LGBTQ-identifying members of the state legislature, the caucus is a group of movers and shakers from across Colorado who have been leading the fight to pass legislation that would expand civil rights protections for LGBTQ Coloradans.
As in many other states, a bill disguised as protection for religious liberty that not-so-secretly targeted LGBTQ people was introduced in Colorado again this year, but was eventually killed with bipartisan support. Even so, Rep. Leslie Herod, the newest member of the LGBT Caucus and the first LGBT African-American to serve in the state Legislature, doesn't believe bills like this are going away. "I think that the religious liberty issue is sweeping the nation, and that we will see it again in our state," says Rep. Herod.
From Donald Trump's executive action on the issue to Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (known as RFRAs) popping up in state legislatures across the country, it can feel as though the LGBTQ community is under attack from all sides. But the unity that Rep. Herod has observed in her first term in the state House gives her hope. She has seen firsthand the collaboration between the LGBT Caucus and other groups, like the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus of Colorado, and says "they will not be able to pit our communities against each other."
Unfortunately, the bipartisanship that killed the religious liberty bill has not extended to everything.
Both the LGBT Caucus and local LGBTQ groups like One Colorado have been working for several years now to pass a ban on conversion therapy and a bill that would make it easier for transgender people to get a birth certificate and other legal documents that accurately reflect their identity. But just as in years past, these bills were killed by state Republicans on a party line vote in the GOP-controlled state Senate. One of the LGBT Caucus members, Rep. Paul Rosenthal, says: "There are some moderate Republicans, but unfortunately they aren't the ones in power."
Sen. Dominick Moreno, another member of the LGBT Caucus, said he thinks it will take nothing short of Democratic control of the state Senate for these bills to pass. "We'll try again next year but I'm sure they'll meet the same fate with the same Senate leadership," he said.
One of the most surprising outcomes from this year's state legislative session was an update to the state's existing harassment protections to include protections for LGBTQ Coloradans, as well as people with mental or physical disabilities. Based on the outcomes of the other bills, members of the LGBT Caucus didn't originally have high hopes for this one. "We thought it was going to die in the Senate, but it did end up passing," says Rep. Rosenthal. And it was a big win: The anti-discrimination bill ended up being approved in the Senate by a 23-12 margin.
As the halls of our state Capitol empty out at the end of the legislative session, the members of the LGBT Caucus want their community to remain involved, and to use this time to share the issues they face with their elected officials.
The time lawmakers spend away from the Capitol is a great time to engage with them and share the issues faced by our community, and all the members of the LGBT Caucus stress the importance of taking advantage of that time. "Make sure your legislators know your name, and your family, and your story," says Rep. Herod.
"The conversation changes when we're at the table," says Sen. Moreno, "it's hard to hate up close."