On Aug. 1, the Fremont County School District tabled a proposed transgender policy, designed to comply with state law mandating support for transgender students, after pushback from local politicians, teachers, and community members. In Colorado, transgender people and gender identity are protected under nondiscrimination ordinances.
“In the state of Colorado in 2021, the Colorado General Assembly amended the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act to include the protected categories of ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression,’” explained Melissa Barber, legal counsel for the district, during an Aug. 8 Fremont County School Board meeting. “In the past, the term ‘sexual orientation’ had been in parens, ‘transgender,’ but they clarified the statute discrimination based on sex to include sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression. They define ‘gender expression’ as ‘an individual’s way of reflecting and expressing the individual’s gender to the outside world, typically through appearance, dress and behavior,’ and also defined ‘gender identity’ meaning, ‘an individual’s innate sense of the individual’s own gender, which may or may not correspond with the individual’s sex assigned at birth.’ Coming out of that change in the law, there was also a specific provision in C.R.S. 22-32-109 that provides, ‘in addition to any other duty that required to be performed by law, each board of education has the following specific duties, and that includes to adopt written policies specifying that the schools in the district are subject to all federal and state laws and constitutional provisions prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, religion, ancestry, or need for special education services.’
“So the [Fremont RE-1] board, through their policy AC, the nondiscrimination policy which has been updated to comply with this provision of the law. Part of the rulemaking that went along with the General Assembly changing the law includes some specific requirements around the use of facilities. This is in the Civil Rights Commission’s rules — 81.9 addresses gender identity and the use of restrooms and locker rooms. Rule 81.6 addresses names and pronouns, specifically deliberately misusing an individual’s preferred name, form of address, or gender-related pronoun is prohibited under this nondiscrimination statute. The state of Colorado is one of twenty or so states that has state law specifically prohibiting discrimination against people who are transgender, or based on gender identity or gender expression.”
Colorado’s legal protections for transgender people have been upheld in court. In 2013, the Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled in favor of Coy Mathis, a six-year-old transgender student in the Fountain-Fort Carson school who was denied access to the girls’ bathroom.
Despite the solid legal footing of the district, Cañon City community members came out to voice opposition to the policy and to the existence of transgender people, accusing LGBTQ staff in the district of being “groomers,” repeating misinformation from sources like Abigail Shrier or Christopher Rufo, and encouraging conversion therapy for trans youth, all while insisting that “hate” or “fear” was not the primary motivation for public comments.
John Hamrick, Cañon City’s mayor pro tem and a city council representative, who made sure to emphasize he was speaking for himself, spoke at length about “groomers” in Cañon City schools. Hamrick said students who self-identify as LGBTQ “turns [to] loose employees of the district to talk to — and some would say ‘groom’ — students concerning transgender ideology.”
Hamrick equated discussion of LGBTQ identity with sexual exploitation of children, citing Colorado Revised Statute. “You would have us believe that such a minor child can give informed consent, without parental involvement, to have life-destroying surgery and/or chemical castration.”
While hormone blockers are often prescribed for trans youth, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), has detailed Standards of Care that describe when and how they should be used.
Hamrick’s claims that children are undergoing “life-destroying surgery” — or any medical gender-affirming care without parental consent — is a common falsehood. The WPATH Standards of Care clearly state, “Genital surgery should not be carried out until (i) patients reach the legal age of majority to give consent for medical procedures in a given country, and (ii) patients have lived continuously for at least 12 months in the gender role that is congruent with their gender identity.”
At the Fremont County School Board meeting, Janet Bendell, a psychologist, spoke of her concern about the “irreparable harm” of forcing a student to use a bathroom or locker room with “a transsexual or transgender person.” Bendell compared gender-affirming health care to human experimentation and said a policy requiring students to respect a transgender person’s name and pronouns will cause “moral injury,” before saying the policy would violate the Nuremberg code. Bendell and her husband Don, a 2018 Republican candidate for Colorado House who lost to Bri Buentello, are authors of the book Real Men Are Cowboys and Women Love Them.
While the public commenters overwhelmingly opposed allowing transgender students to use facilities that correspond with their gender identity, a handful of community members spoke in favor of the policy. Chris Moffat, a parent and Navy veteran, said the concern over transgender students was a “moral panic” and asked the community to stop projecting “bigoted hysteria” onto the board of education.
Adam Hartma, the Fremont County superintendent of schools, and Robin Reeser, the Fremont County School District Board of Education president, released a statement on the transgender policy on Aug. 1.
“As the public school district charged with meeting the needs of our diverse community, we have a responsibility to create a school environment in which all students feel safe and welcome. We know, however, that some do not feel welcome or safe at school and need additional support from educators to achieve both academic and social success. Based on this knowledge, the administration drafted a policy consistent with law, recommending supports for our transgender students.
“In the days since first sharing the draft policy with the Board of Education as an informational item, we have heard clearly that we need to further engage our community as we strive to develop a policy that protects and supports our students while reflecting the collective values of our community. As a result, we are tabling our policy adoption efforts at this time in order to participate in additional community engagement about the needs of our transgender students and federal legal requirements that the district must adhere to.”
Inside Out Youth Services, a Colorado Springs nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ youth, also released a statement on the proposed policy.
“Despite a well-documented and unprecedented need, it is so rare for a school district to create a comprehensive plan of support for transgender students,” read the emailed statement. “We applaud Cañon City Schools for their efforts in creating a document that outlines equity, access, and privacy concerns for students of all ages and all stages of transition. Due to backlash by a vocal few, these necessary supports are in limbo. Transgender students deserve the same assurance of safety as their cisgender peers.
“We know two things to be true: 1) When young people are affirmed, supported, and valued in their identities, their mental health improves greatly. 2) When we make spaces safer for the most marginalized among us, we make spaces safer for everyone.
“We encourage Cañon City Schools, for the sake of students and families, to resume this conversation with transgender students themselves not only at the table, but centered in discussion.”