DENVER — Inclusivity was a resounding message from the one hundred-plus people who took to the Colorado Capitol building for LGBTQ+ lobby day set on finding lawmakers to hear their voice. Despite lasting only a short-time, each of the members of Colorado's community hoped their message will make a lasting difference.
"The lawmakers we got a chance to talk to were all very supportive. We talked to a representative and a senator, which is pretty good out of the brief amount of time that we get here between their votes," said Laura MacWaters.
MacWaters is a veteran when it comes to lobbying lawmakers, happy to make the drive from Fort Collins to talk about pending legislation that’s important to the LGBTQ+ community. She has made the trip every year — except for when the pandemic didn’t allow for it — not only to speak to lawmakers herself, but to also lead others and teach them how to lobby representatives and senators, something she knows she can’t take for granted.
"It was about 15 years ago that various laws were passed in Colorado that meant that I personally cannot be fired for being transgender and that I was allowed to use a restroom. I don't know who helped those people out, but I'm here to help people out on legislation and issues that are important today," said MacWaters, who also said she is a former sociology and political scientist who is, "out to save the world through social movements."
LGTBQ+ Lobby Day 2022
As the 2022 legislative session goes on, LGBTQ+ community members made their voices heard.
While MacWaters said she has spent six years participating in LGBTQ+ lobby day, others in the group who are too young to vote are using this platform to make sure their voice is heard – like Sam Charney.
At 15-years-old, they are no stranger to helping lead change, serving as a Gender and Sexuality Alliance leadership representative with One Colorado. GSA is a group consisting of high school and college students from across the state who help lead and advocate for LGBTQ+ youth. Charney said when someone mentioned in a recent meeting this lobby day would happen, they jumped at the chance to participate.
“I was like, ‘Oh, yes, my time to, like, channel my anger and fear for the world and, like, to the right place and be able to make a small change in the world,” said Charney. “This is kind of my way of showing change in the government because I'm not able to vote yet.”
Two key issues they wanted to focus on was a ban on flavored tobacco (HB22-1064) and an update to the hate crime statute. The flavored tobacco ban is important to them as a high school student who said they've seen too much illegal use of the products and hopes to help keep their peers healthier. The update to the hate crime statute has yet to be introduced, but would include more protections for those who are transgender and nonbinary.
“Currently, Colorado law protects victims of bias-motivated crimes based on race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability, and sexual orientation. However, the law does not include protections based on a person's gender, gender identity, or gender expression. One Colorado seeks to update the Hate Crimes Statute by adding these protections to ensure that all Coloradans are equally protected under state law. We are working closely with the bill's sponsors and anticipate the bill will be introduced very soon,” said Meredith Gleitz, the policy manager for One Colorado, in a statement to Rocky Mountain PBS.
This would put Colorado's Hate Crimes Statute in line with updates made to the federal hate crime law in 2009.
“It's really important for me to be able to represent that because with everything that's going on in Texas and in other parts of the United States, it's kind of scary to be living as a transgender and queer student in Colorado. And it's really important to make sure that I solidify my rights as a citizen,” said Charney.
Recently, Texas Governor Greg Abbot directed the state's Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate certain gender-affirming care as possible child abuse. However, a judge has temporarily blocked that order. In Florida, lawmakers passed a bill which opponents have dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill which bans teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. These measures passing in other states has sent a wave of fear for many across the country.
“As we see kind of some traumatic issues going on across the country with what's happening in Texas and what also what's happening in Florida, our folks were, you know, they wanted to get out, they wanted to talk our legislators and let them know, ‘Hey, we want to be protected,’” explained Nadine Bridges, the executive director of One Colorado.
One Colorado is the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in the state and has three what it calls "tier one bills" this legislative session, including the one Charney mentioned about updating the Hate Crime Statute. The other two are the Family Affirmation Act (HB22-1153) and the Culturally Relevant Healthcare Training Act (HB22-1267).
The Family Affirmation Act helps solidify parentage of a child who is conceived as a result of assisted reproduction and the Relevant Healthcare Training Act directs the office of health equity to provide culturally relevant and affirming healthcare training. While all bills are important to Bridges, this one in particular is something she is really excited about.
“There's many folks in the community who don't feel comfortable going to a provider, whether that's behavioral health, mental health, or physical health. So for us to work around creating these training opportunities so that, you know, so that providers can be culturally responsive to the community is really important,” she explained.
After a couple of hours hoping to catch lawmakers’ ears, the more than 100 lobbyists made their way over to a nearby church to enjoy lunch and listen to a panel of lawmakers discuss some of these important topics. While addressing the needs of the community was the main goal of lobby day, part of this day was a chance to connect in person, finally.
“This is the first lobby day that we've had in two years,” said Bridges. “So to actually get people here, once again...to have folks come in, especially our youth and young adults to say, like, Civic engagement is important to me and we want our civil servants to, like, know what's happening out there.’”
For 21-year-old, Joseph Overstreet, driving up from Colorado Springs for the day was a no-brainer. Ever since coming out, he’s wanted to get more involved in LGBTQ+ activities, so when he received the email from Inside Out Youth Services, a partner for LGBTQ Lobby Day, he thought — “why not come up and help support my community.”
While the people advocating on this particular day were focusing on issues that would impact the LGBTQ+ community, inclusivity is the ultimate goal.
“Inclusivity is a very important thing,” said Overstreet. “Not just for the LGBTQ+ community, but for everybody.”
Letter grade rating of Colorado's policies for LGBTQ+ community
On March 14, U.S. News and World Report published an analysis of different states and their laws and policies that could protect LGBTQ youth. It looks at six specific ones including anti-discrimination laws and two that are considered anti-transgender or anti-LGBTQ such as blocking transgender students from sports or restricting discussions of LGBTQ topics in schools. Colorado is one of two states that have passed all six protective laws or policies. As noted in the report, Colorado has made a huge turn around from just 30 years ago when it was labeled "The Hate State" when voters passed an amendment — that was later determined unconstitutional — that forbade cities from passing anti-discriminations laws protecting gay people.
When interviewing those participating in One Colorado's LGBTQ+ lobby day, Rocky Mountain PBS asked each person which letter grade they would give Colorado when it comes to addressing the concerns of those within in the LGBTQ+ community. Here are their responses.
Joseph Overstreet — B+
"I'd say a solid B+ Colorado ... Especially with, you know, Governor, Jared PoIis. I think he's very ... I think we're definitely trending towards more being progressive and definitely more inclusive in the, in the community. And I love to see that, you know, in my hometown of Colorado Springs, you know, I'm seeing more gay-friendly areas pop up. I'm seeing more people being willing to come out and talk about it. And I've seen more people just willing to be themselves without, you know, without risk of being heckled."
Sam Charney — B+
"I'd say probably like a B+ because I'm never going to give anyone a perfect grade 'cause there's always room for improvement, but they're doing pretty good at being able to represent us and being able to have representatives in the government ... in the house that are able to represent us. And also that show a diverse group of people that represent us."
Nadine Bridges — A-
"I mean the letter grade I would give the state right now is an A. We have the most LGBTQ protections of ... well, I'm gonna say an A-, right? Because we have the most LGBTQ protections than any other state in the nation. And also we know we still have a lot more work to do. We also need to recognize that, although we've done a lot of work at the state level, there's still a lot of local races that we need — school boards and library boards, you know? We really need to make sure that we are supporting or/and working with folks for pro-equality and pro-LGBTQ at all levels. So yes, it's great to be here as well, but we still have work to do at jurisdictions, municipalities, and counties to be ... to ensure that all of our communities protected."
Laura MacWaters — A
"Colorado's like a solid A, maybe an A-, but really the bar keeps shifting with new issues to come up, but Colorado has always been on top of it for the last three years or so. And ... before that we were one of the best states in the nation for legal protections and for legal procedures and processes and support for the LGBT community."
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