As an openly queer person born in North Carolina, it's been hard for me to watch the fight unfold in my home state over public accommodations protections for LGBTQ people, like the right to use public bathrooms. But I understand how the debate can feel worlds away for people in Colorado.
Though LGBTQ rights still represent a complex and highly contested issue here, many battles were settled years ago. The public accommodations debate, for instance, ended in 2008 with Gov. Bill Ritter signing a bill that changed Colorado's existing public accommodations laws to include protections for LGBTQ people.
As the national conversation around LGBTQ rights has grown increasingly hostile in parts of the country, Colorado has remained a leader for LGBTQ civil rights. A vehemently anti-LGBTQ White House administration and Republican-dominated Congress will test the commitment to LGBTQ rights shared by most Coloradans in the coming years, but we will be able to see what our elected officials stand for in our state legislative session, which begins this week.
While LGBTQ advocates in states that lag behind Colorado work to establish anti-bullying laws and employment protections similar to the ones we already have, it's more important than ever for Coloradans to come together in resounding support for the LGBTQ community and to show our state is stronger for it.
This year's legislative session once again brings two promising LGBTQ bills that could become law: a ban on the scientifically debunked practice of conversion therapy for minors in Colorado, and a birth certificate modernization act that would make it easier for transgender Coloradans to get legal documents that accurately reflect who they are. While there's still a well-funded opposition to LGBTQ civil rights in Colorado, the conversion therapy ban and birth certificate modernization act will be supported by a growing number of LGBTQ allies in the General Assembly — several of whom openly identify along the LGBTQ spectrum — as well as One Colorado, the state's leading LGBTQ advocacy organization.
While many Coloradans are excited for the introduction of these two bills, the concepts behind them aren't new to the halls of the state Capitol, as similar versions of both the conversion therapy ban and the birth certificate modernization act were introduced last year and the year before. Both bills picked up bipartisan support and successfully passed out of the Democratic-controlled state House, but were killed in Senate committee on a party-line vote, meaning neither bill even reached the floor of the Republican-controlled state Senate. Despite last year's defeat — and the fact that the state Senate is still controlled by Republicans — the folks at One Colorado are optimistic this year.
"There's a new group of folks in the state Senate, and that means a new opportunity to build relationships with both Republicans and Democrats to grow support for LGBTQ equality," Daniel Ramos, executive director of One Colorado, says. "It really is about breaking through the noise and doing our work here in Colorado by building broad-based coalitions."
Local trans activist Shari Zabel, who has testified on behalf of the birth certificate modernization act, isn't as confident as some other folks. "The chances of either bill passing this year are the same as the last two years," she says. "They will pass out of the House with bipartisan support. The most likely result in the Senate is that they will be sent to the kill committee."
One Colorado and their allies are working hard to swing the state further in favor of equality for all, but we can't leave the work ahead up to them alone. In a political age where the vice grip of partisan politics is one of the biggest barriers we face in the fight for civil rights protections, it is important that we share our experiences as LGBTQ people. Take advantage of One Colorado's LGBTQ Lobby Day (Feb. 27), where anyone from across the state can visit with their elected officials at the state Capitol, or write a letter or make a call to your local elected officials. Reaching out to them is easier than most people assume, and most are eager to hear from their constituents.
In Colorado Springs, our elected officials have a wide array of perspectives on issues facing the LGBTQ community, but simplifying the debate to an issue of Republicans versus Democrats won't help.
This year's bills impact the most neglected members of our community, and we cannot afford for anybody to sit idly by.