Gay rights and parents rights clashed at the Colorado Capitol this week, as a Democratic-led House committee dispatched seven bills sponsored by Republicans.
The package covered parental rights, banning transgender athletes from girls sports, charging medical professionals who assist transgender youths and allowing businesses to deny service for religious reasons.
After 12 hours of testimony that went into early Friday, the bills were voted down by the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee along party lines, a nearly certain conclusion for the bills deemed hostile by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Coloradans.
Testimony covered touching personal stories on both sides. Allegations touched on government overreach, sanctioned discrimination, child abuse, teen suicide, racism, falsely accused parents and poor decisions by public agencies.
LGBTQ advocates rallied at the Capitol and testified late into the night, as parents and religious affiliates supported the legislation.
Daniel Ramos, the executive director of One Colorado, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, said it was important for his side to make a stand, even if the bills were bound to fail before the Democratic majority.
While the state is being recognized for its advances in gay rights, it still faces challenges such as those presented by Republicans in Thursday’s package.
“We saw the most aggressive slate of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in at least the last 10 years,” Ramos said. “We need to show up and share the stories of our families, tell our stories, and defeat these bills.”
The legislation that got perhaps the the most argument was the Parents Bill of Rights, House Bill 1144, to ensure parents can view all records and make health care decisions regarding their children. Opponents saw the bill as a pathway to teen suicide and depression for LGBTQ youths, who would not be able to confide in doctors or counselors.
Committee chair Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, asked a father a hypothetical question.
“I say this with humility, but if a child made a decision they were going to trust a teacher with this information, but chose not to trust a parent, and we were to put in place a law saying that teacher must report it to the parent, is the natural result of that that the kid chooses not to speak to anyone at all?” he asked.
After about 7½ hours of testimony, Kennedy was blunt and accusatory toward Rep. Tim Geitner, R-Colorado Springs, for his bill to allow parents at underperforming schools to enact reforms, House Bill 1111.
He accused Geitner of only talking to the school-reform group Ready Colorado before submitting his bill.
“Have you talked to a single Democrat on this committee about the bill, other than to schedule it? I don’t think this is a serious effort, and when I hear members of this committee talk about this being an unfair process it is outrageous to me, because this is a fundamentally unserious proposal that you brought forward with no stakeholding and scarcely any work I can pick up on.”
Geitner said he also talked to parents and students.
Rep. Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance, said to Kennedy: “I don’t appreciate the way you’re talking to Rep. Geitner,” before the committee voted down the bill about 9 p.m. and took a break.
Former state Sen. Evie Hudak, a Democrat from Arvada, spoke on behalf of the Colorado PTA, an organization of more than 20,000 members, and its opposition to the Parents Bill of Rights.
She said the proposed Parents Bill of Rights was loaded with perhaps unintended consequences that would make it difficult to run a school system; for example, parents having a direct say in hiring and firing decisions on teachers and administrators, curriculum, health care and discipline, including attempts to curb bullying.
“We believe this legislation is unnecessary and unduly severe,” Hudak said.
She named existing laws that give parents informed consent regarding their children, including medical, educational and religious decisions.
Meredith Martinez, who opposed the bill, pointed out she’s a parent and a Democrat who does not dislike gay people or wish to harm children. She opposes vaccinations, she said.
“I don’t want my son to be in a room with a doctor by himself,” she said. “I don’t want my son to be coerced at school to get more vaccinations, because my sons are at risk for injury.”
Thea Jackson told the committee that parents have inherent rights. She said she could not understand the opposition to the bill, because it would help parents of LGBTQ children.
The other bills defeated:
House Bill 1063, called “Fundamental Family Rights,” would have raised the burden for government to intercede on behalf of children.
House Bill 1114, called “Protection of Minors from Mutilation and Sterilization,” would have made sex reassignment treatment on anyone 17 or young a third-degree felony for medical professionals.
House Bill 1273, the Equality And Fairness In Youth Sports Act, would have prohibited transgender girls from participating on girls sports teams in sixth through 12th grades.
House Bill 1272, the Colorado Natural Marriage And Adoption Act, called for the enforcement of the state laws that still define a valid marriage as between one man and one woman.
House Bill 1033, the Live and Let Live Act, is aimed at ensuring religious liberty, but LGBTQ proponents said was a license for religious affiliates to discriminate.