Antagonism toward transgender people was on full display at Saturday’s “Red Wave” party in Colorado Springs, where nearly all of El Paso County’s Republican elected officials and candidates gathered to listen to former collegiate swimmer Riley Gaines and to launch a political group aimed at restricting the participation of transgender people in sports, education, and public life.

Featured speaker Gaines tied with transgender swimmer Lia Thomas during the NCAA women’s swimming championships in March, and has gained national attention for expressing discomfort about the presence of transgender athletes in women’s sports.

Among the candidates at the event, hosted by former U.S. Senate candidate Eli Bremer and held on the same day as the El Paso County Republicans’ Lincoln Day Dinner, was CU Regent and Republican gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl, who shared an anecdote about transgender students at the University of Colorado.

“Today I got a call from a parent at CU who said, ‘Oh my gosh, my daughter got a dorm assignment, and it’s with a biological male who considers himself a female, and Heidi, they won’t let her back out,” Ganahl said. “They said she has to live there for two weeks before they’ll give her another option.’ So I made some phone calls and got it reversed, but that’s the policy. This is happening everywhere.”

When asked if her actions violated Colorado’s nondiscrimination laws, and if the University of Colorado would relocate a student based on any other protected class under Colorado law — disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, religion, ancestry, or need for special education services — Ganahl said, “I didn’t get it done, I just made them aware the gal was uncomfortable, so I helped accommodate a conversation. All I know is I’m a mother of girls, and this mom was very concerned and upset, and so was her daughter. I was trying to, as a regent, accommodate the conversation.” 

A spokesperson from the University of Colorado said of Ganahl’s statement, “We don’t view anything she may have done as illegally discriminatory.”

The board of oSTEM [Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] at CU Boulder said in a statement, “Dorm move-in is understandably a stressful time for both students and parents alike. Not only are parents releasing their kids into adulthood for the first time, but they want to protect them from anything new or ‘scary.’ One of the beautiful things about college is that people from many different backgrounds can come together, connect, and learn from one another. It appears that this family does not come from a background where they’ve interacted with many trans people, and that is ok. However, they should challenge themselves to learn from this opportunity and see that being trans is perfectly fine. We aren’t trans because we want to antagonize others or make people uncomfortable. We’re trans because it just so happens that the body we were born in doesn’t quite align with how we perceive ourselves. We’re not trans to stand out to others, we’re trans to help ourselves feel comfortable with who we are. The daughter’s roommate is doing nothing wrong by being assigned a dorm room that fits her gender, and to label it as an act of malicious intent is doing nothing to help us understand each other. Just because we’re different, it doesn’t mean that’s bad.”

The statement from oSTEM also raised questions about the veracity of Ganahl’s anecdote by explaining how dorm assignments are made at CU Boulder.

“In response to how the housing application process is portrayed, the housing form that freshman must fill out to receive their room assignments also requires students to self-identify their gender, with trans students selecting a transgender option,” the group said. “Every student must mark which genders they are willing to room with (with transgender woman and transgender man being separate options). The housing department at CU does an incredible amount of work to ensure that these preferences are met, meaning that students should not be forcibly rooming with transgender students unless they indicate their willingness to do so. Especially before move-in, housing is often more accommodating with room change requests in these situations than [Ganahl’s] statement is portraying them to be.

“The claim that these situations are ‘happening everywhere’ is false and is inciting fear and anger towards transgender students.”

According to a spokesperson from the University of Colorado, “Ms. Ganahl was speaking in her capacity as a candidate for elected office, not as a CU regent.”

In a separate email, Candace Smith, CU’s associate vice chancellor of strategic communications, explained the university’s housing policy.

“University Housing at CU Boulder makes every attempt to match students with the preferences they indicate on their housing application,” said Smith. “We cannot confirm the alleged details of this specific housing assignment change request at this time.

“There are more than 8,300 students who are moving into campus housing this week. Roommate change requests are received for a variety of reasons. We work to accommodate each of those requests as capacity allows.

“All genders are assigned to all residence halls, and most floors. University Housing assigns students a space based on the student’s self-identified gender that they select on their housing application, rather than birth gender. Additionally, students have the option to participate in the roommate request process if they are interested in living with a specific person if they are assigned to the same building. CU Boulder has numerous resources to assist students through this process, including gender-inclusive housing. Students have the opportunity to request room changes both before and after move-in.

“CU Boulder takes reports of discrimination and harassment seriously, and allegations are reported to the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC). We cannot discuss individual cases. Anyone who would like to share information or discuss addressing such conduct can contact OIEC at 303-942-2127 or [email protected]

Ganahl has touted her endorsement from transphobic conservative activist Charlie Kirk, who spoke at CU Boulder in April, and in June proposed a resolution to encourage the university to strengthen its policies and practices in order to ensure that aborted human fetal tissue is never used for research purposes

Ganahl said transgender people are “happening everywhere.”

Following remarks from elected officials, Bremer introduced Nine PAC.

“The purpose of Nine PAC is going to be to defend the rights of athletes like Riley, young girls across the country,” he said. “It is focused on defending the rights of girls and women in sports and inside education. This is an issue that is very strong for Republicans, about 99% agreement, unaffiliateds about 70%, even half of Democrats agree.”

The controversy over Title IX was explained by Melissa Barber, legal counsel for the Fremont County School District, during an Aug. 8 board of education meeting to address a recently proposed transgender policy for the district. “The federal law is Title IX, and that’s the federal law that states that ‘no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational or activity receiving federal financial assistance,” she said. “When we think about — in school districts — the enforcement of Title IX, that enforcement mechanism is through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights [OCR]. If somebody is going to make a complaint about discrimination, they’re going to go to OCR and file that complaint. That is a federal agency that does that enforcement, and that agency has been directed, by the current administration, in terms of how it’s going to enforce the law. Under Obama, there was clear direction that OCR would investigate complaints filed by students who were transgender. Under the Trump administration that enforcement policy changed. Now under Biden, there’s been issued a notice that they will investigate these kind of complaints. Another intervening factor has been the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bostock decision, under Title VII, the employment discrimination arena. The Biden administration is taking the position that generally, Title IX cases follow Title VII cases, in terms of the definition of discrimination based on sex, and this is going to be our enforcement posture. Right now, that’s the information that the school district has.”

Gaines read the Nine PAC pledge for the first slate of Colorado candidates to be endorsed — U.S. congressional candidates Erik Aadland, Barbara Kirkmeyer, and Steve Monahan, all Republicans.

“To be endorsed by Nine PAC, candidates must take the following pledge,” said Gaines. “Do you support Title IX’s protection of women as it was intended when written, and if elected will you support legislation protecting Title IX? Do you believe that biological girls and women have a fundamental right to play, compete, and win in their own sports category? Do you believe that biological girls and women have a right to privacy in their bathrooms and locker rooms? That includes not having to expose themselves to members of the opposite biological sex and not having them be exposed to members of the opposite sex. Will you oppose any attempts to infringe on biological women’s rights in these areas? Will you be a champion and advocate for biological women’s rights?”

After receiving an oversized novelty check for $2,900, Aadland, who along with Kirkmeyer opposes access to abortion, called himself a “modern feminist.” In an emailed response to questions about Monahan’s position on abortion, Monahan’s campaign said, “The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade and brought the legislation of abortion back to the states. As a Congressman, Steven will oppose any federal takeover on this issue and will defend states’ abilities to make their own decisions.”