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At LGBTQ+ lobby day, Coloradans push for rights against a backdrop of hateful rhetoric

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LGBTQ+ advocates show signs of support at First Baptist Church before heading to the Colorado Capitol.
 Photo: Carly Rose, Rocky Mountain PBS

DENVER — Amid a slew of anti-LGBTQ+ bills proposed in state legislatures around the nation, 180 Coloradans spent their Monday at the Colorado Capitol pushing for rights in the Centennial State.

“Although we have more statewide protection than any other state, we’re recognizing at a local level that that isn’t the case,” said Nadine Bridges, executive director of One Colorado, an LGBTQ+ advocacy nonprofit. “Although we have all these protections, we still need to let our elected officials know that their job is to serve us.”

Those who attend the annual LGBTQ+ Lobby Day travel from around the state, gather in groups and learn how to meet their local legislators and ask for support.

“It kind of makes me a little scared, because I’m not old enough to vote or make decisions to protect myself,” said Emily, a sophomore high school student in Denver. “But it gives me hope that there are groups of people that do want to advocate for us.”

Voices from LGBTQ Lobby Day 2024

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The Movement Advancement Project — which ranks states based on their policies supporting LGBTQ+ people — ranked Colorado as “high” for its non-discrimination laws and inclusive health care policies.

Still, Bridges and legislators who spoke at the annual LGBTQ+ Lobby Day said their work is far from over, particularly as violence against the transgender community is at an all-time high.

“Whether it was themselves or their peers, our youth are seeing a really big uptick in laws that police our bodies and our families and strip us of our dignity,” said Rep. Steph Vigil, a Democrat representing Colorado's sixteenth house district in Colorado Springs. Vigil is also the chair of the Colorado Youth Advisory Council Committee.

Vigil is sponsoring a bill requiring public and charter schools to use a student’s preferred name and pronouns without the student having to legally change their name, an issue she said was a high priority for Colorado youth. The bill passed a first vote in the Colorado House, but still needs a second round of approval before heading to the Senate.

The House also passed a first vote allowing convicted felons to change their name to conform with their gender identity. That bill is scheduled for a second vote Monday.

Colorado Public Radio reported that the debate on the House floor was largely civil, though “a couple Republicans” compared transgender people to sexual predators.

Vigil said her office was flooded with hateful emails and was targeted by groups like Libs of TikTok, a right-wing social media network that directs hate towards LGBTQ+ individuals and has baselessly called teachers “groomers.” USA Today reported that Libs of TikTok has been accused of inspiring bomb threats against schools in California and Oklahoma.

“There's a lot of fear and shame that’s elicited with other people being themselves,” Vigil said. “Some people can’t handle it I guess.”

Brianna Titone — Colorado’s first openly transgender legislator — said voting and pushing for LGBTQ+ rights is increasingly important. As visibility and acceptance grow for the queer community, so do hate and threats, Titone said.

“For a lot of people who are trans and non-binary, our rights are on the line,” Titone said. 

Colorado Republican leaders have formed a committee to introduce a 2024 ballot measure banning gender-affirming care for youth. Garrett Royer, deputy director of One Colorado, said he believes Republicans are opting for ballot measures over legislative action because the state legislature tends to vote in support of LGBTQ+ rights.

“I think they’re using deceptive language that would trick voters,” Royer said. “They think they can use scare tactics to get voters on their side through a ballot measure.”

Titone pointed to the recent death of Nex Benedict — a non-binary Oklahoma teenager who died the day after a fight in a school bathroom — as a direct result of a rise in anti-transgender bills and hate speech.

The FBI’s 2022 crime report showed a 13.8% increase in hate crime reports based on sexual orientation and a 33% increase in reports based on gender identity. 

“Those words create an environment of hostility for people like me,” Titone said. “They create hostility and somebody dies.”


Alison Berg is a reporter at Rocky Mountain PBS. Alisonberg@rmpbs.org.

Carly Rose is a journalism intern at Rocky Mountain PBS. carlyrose@rmpbs.org

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