Republican candidates for governor weighed in on the Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA) and the rights of transgender students in Colorado during a forum in Colorado Springs hosted by the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) College Republicans.

Candidates included frontrunners Danielle Neuschwanger, Heidi Ganahl, and Greg Lopez, as well as Monument Trustee Laurie Clark, who recently announced her resignation from the board, citing — unfounded, according to Monument’s Mayor and Town Manager — allegations of sexual harassment and financial impropriety. Additional candidates included Jeff Fry, Zach Burke, Darryl Gibbs, who introduced himself by saying, “I only kneel down to God and I salute my American flag,” and then stood up and saluted the flag, and Jack Dillender, who repeatedly told the audience that God told him to run for governor.

“This past week, House Bill 1279 was debated in the Colorado legislature and passed,” said moderator Brooke Faulkner, the Rocky Mountain regional coordinator for anti-abortion activist group Students for Life, referring to RHEA, which enshrines the right to abortion in Colorado law. “This heinous bill, which is likely to be signed into law by Jared Polis, uses abortion as a ruse. The bill proposes lawful infanticide without stating it, and forbids any jurisdiction from infringing on an individual’s right to act regarding a pregnancy outcome. This often includes the birth of a person. By defining ‘reproductive health care’ with no hospital limitations, to include postnatal and delivery care, an infant born, or during an abortion, or during a botched procedure, can be left to die or euthanized after a physician’s consultation. Where do you stand when it comes to abortion, and what would you do if this barbaric law landed on your desk to sign into law?”

The RHEA does not propose “lawful infanticide.”

Gibbs provided a meandering response that concluded with him stating his opposition to abortion. Dillender simply stated, “Life starts at conception.”

Clark said she would veto RHEA. “In the Constitution, it says that every person in America has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” she said. “As governor, I would veto any such criminal, heinous act of murder against our children. It is a well-known fact — scientifically — that life begins at the moment of conception. It is important to know that the preborn, afterborn person is a person, and we should acknowledge that in all of our laws, and in all the benefits and provisions and freedoms given to people under the Constitution. I would also prompt legislation to ban abortion in Colorado.”

Legislation to ban abortion in Colorado has been consistently introduced and subsequently killed in committee.

Lopez conceded that with Democrats controlling both the legislative and executive branches of government in Colorado, passage of RHEA was nearly guaranteed.

“This bill is clearly an indication that we have lost our moral compass here in society,” he said. “We’ve lost it. Lisa [Lopez, his wife] and I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning to testify for two minutes. As governor, I would veto that bill, because people truly don’t understand what’s in it. We know this — because the House is controlled by the Democrats and the Senate is controlled by the Democrats and because we have a Democratic governor, it doesn’t matter what we do, it doesn’t matter what we say. They’re going to sign it, they’re going to pass it, so as governor what I’m going to do is rally the people, and we’re going to put this on the ballot. We’re going to make sure people truly understand what it is they want the people of Colorado to do. I have faith in our people that when they understand it they’re going to vote it down. When they say they’re trying to protect the most vulnerable, don’t believe that. Don’t you dare drink the kool-aid, because that’s not what they’re doing.”

Ganahl also supports plans to ban abortion via ballot initiative.

“I am a pro-life mom of four beautiful children,” she said. “I testified on the bill this week. I am disgusted and heartbroken that we are going to have one of the most radical legislative pieces of abortion bills in the country. I even saw something pop up about abortion tourism. This is not what the people of Colorado want. As a mom, I know the other moms are not OK with this. I don’t think they understand what’s happening at the Capitol right now.

“I agree we should absolutely put this forward to the voters and shout from the rooftops, ‘This is not OK. We will not be the most extreme state in this United States of America. We will protect the unborn.’ It is not OK that this is happening right under our noses in Denver at the Capitol. I think it’s one of the top priorities. We’ve got to educate the people of Colorado on what’s going on, and we can do that right now, not after we’re elected governor, whoever it is.”

Ballot initiatives to ban or limit abortion access in Colorado have also been regularly introduced and consistently voted down by Colorado voters. Supporters are currently approved to collect signatures for Initiative 56, a personhood amendment that would expand the definition of murder to include, “prior to, during or after birth,” for the November 2022 ballot.

Neuschwanger suggested that issuing death certificates for abortions might be a way to fight the RHEA. “I am pro-life, and I would veto this bill,” she said. “I spent some time working with our House of Representatives on alternate ways we could shut this down. One of the ways that come to mind was our certifications of death in Colorado. We looked [Colorado Revised Statute] 25-2-102 which states that a stillborn or fetal death at 20 weeks automatically gets issued a death certificate. The state of Colorado has acknowledged life at a minimum of 20 weeks, so we started using this precedent to see if there was life identified early on, and sure enough, Colorado has issued death certificates as early as six weeks. I challenge Governor Polis to shoot this down, unless you’re planning to rewrite the entire vital statistics organization as a department, because we have already set a precedent, and the precedent is Colorado wants life. We are pro-life and this bill belongs in the trash.”

In addition to abortion, candidates were also asked what they would do combat nondiscrimination legislation that protects transgender students in Colorado.

Moderator Ryan Graham, president of the board of Monument Academy, a Lewis-Palmer District 38 charter school that recently passed a proclamation opposing Colorado’s nondiscrimination laws that drew condemnation from D38’s Board of Education, asked, “This last year, House Bill 21-1108 was signed into law, which amended the definition of ‘sexual orientation’ by adding the terms ‘gender expression’ and ‘gender identity’ to statute. Schools and school districts across the state are being forced to comply with this law, and in doing so are violating the well-being, privacy, and protections of those students who use the restrooms, locker rooms, and play on sports teams that correlate with their biological sex. How will you take a stand in fighting against this insidious agenda that has been saddled on the backs of our children?”

Darryl Gibbs (saluting) supports people identifying as panda bears.

Neuschwanger discussed the need for increased mental health support, and compared trans people competing in sports to the Special Olympics. “First off, I truly believe we have a huge mental health crisis on our hands right now, but that there are only two genders — male and female,” she said. “Personally, it does not bother me if you like to identify as something else. When your rights supersede the rights of everyone else, then we have a problem. I’m all for people playing in sports, but we do have the Special Olympics, so why can’t we have a his, hers, and theirs locker room, or a his, hers, and theirs team, so we’re not alienating anyone. We’re still allowing rights for everyone, but let’s be real, if we’re going to truly stop the crisis that’s going on in America right now, we need to address the mental health concerns first with our children and we need to stop the radical sexual indoctrination of our children from an early age.”

Ganahl sidestepped the issue of transgender people being legally allowed to participate in civic life and discussed the importance of school choice. “You know what really ticks me off?” she asked. “Jared Polis and the Democrats think they know better how to raise our kids. They think school should be raising the kids. We are the parents. The parents should have the power to say what goes and what doesn’t go in our classrooms. The number one thing we can do is require transparency in our curriculum. It just failed at the Capitol last week. They do not want us to see what they are teaching our children. So what do we do about it? We’ve got to have vigorous school choice. What does that mean? We’ve got to fund the student, not the system, and allow parents to take their dollars and go elsewhere if their kids are being exposed to things that do not align with their values. That means private schools, charter schools, religious schools, home schools, micro-schools, whatever it takes to educate our kids and stop these Democrats and Jared Polis from thinking that they are raising our kids. They are not. We are the parents, we need power back to the parents and we need school choice now.”

Clark described the existence of transgender people as a “perversion” and suggested that schools are “grooming” children, a term usually associated with sexual abuse and sex trafficking that has gained popularity on the right as a way to smear LGBTQ adults.

“It is highly illogical to take a scientific fact, of male and female, and try to pervert it,” said Clark, who was censured by the Monument Board of Trustees for “disseminating false information” in May 2020. “This is a perversion. It’s almost as illogical as ‘Take the vax, or lose your jobs.’ For a 99.875% virus recovery rate across all categories. … I think pulling the kids out of schools to prevent them from being groomed like this, and this is a grooming process, it’s happening to our children. We’re making them so confused. We need to pull them away from these teachers and bureaucrats that would pervert their thinking.” 

Lopez suggested that LGBTQ students are now bullying straight students and forcing them into a heterosexual closet. “This is just another example of how we’ve lost our moral compass,” he said. “They want to tell us that they’re trying to help the vulnerable. What they’re actually doing is not only confusing our children, but they’re creating bullies within the school system. … I was talking to a mom the other day and she goes, ‘Greg, you won’t believe what my 16 year-old son told me. I asked him if this was happening in the schools and goes, ‘Yes, mom, it is.’ So what do you do about it son? ‘Mom, I tell everyone I’m gay so they’ll leave me alone, so I don’t have to deal with the bullying that comes with, if we’re normal, the students and the teachers attack us.’

Data from the 2019 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey shows that 21.8% of respondents reported bullying due to sexual orientation, and 6.9% reported bullying due to gender identity.

“If you want to say you’re a panda bear, I don’t care,” quipped Gibbs. “Say you’re a panda bear, but at the same time, don’t infringe the rest of our rights.”

Dillender warned the audience of the existential threat transgender people pose to society. “They’re trying to destroy our country,” he said. “They’re Godless, I’m not joking. They’re going to take everything from us. They’re going to make you believe what they want, and we have to stop them.”

UPDATE: Rep. Susan Lontine (D-Denver), chair of House Health and Insurance Comittee, tweeted late this morning that Ganahl, “Didn’t testify or even show up to the hearing, check the witness lists for yourselves.” Lexi Swearingen, Ganahl’s communication director, tweeted a clarification in response, “Heidi submitted written testimony to the committee. She never said she spoke or appeared.”

Rep. Lontine dispute’s Ganahl’s claims from this week’s forum.