Less than a month into 2023, Republican politicians are kicking the new legislative session off with overwhelming bigotry. According to the ACLU, over 150 bills targeting the LGBTQ community, and transgender people in particular, have already been introduced in legislatures across the country. In Colorado, three GOP legislators added a new bill to the pile this week, this one meant to attack trans athletes in Colorado’s public schools.
On Monday, freshmen CO state Reps. Lisa Frizell (R-Castle Rock) and Brandi Bradley (R-Littleton), along with state Sen. Byron Pelton (R-Sterling), introduced House Bill 23-1098, entitled “Women’s Rights in Athletics.” The bill, which claims to be about protecting the rights of female students in athletics, would require all school sports programs and events to restrict students from joining based on the sex they were assigned at birth.
This comes after a rising tide of vitriol and hatred towards the LGBTQ community in the past few years. In 2022, conservative legislators introduced more than 300 bills pushing back against LGBTQ rights. Legislative action has been accompanied by a surge in threats and violence. The Human Rights Campaign reported a rise in violence against trans and gender nonconforming people in 2022 compared to previous years. In Colorado Springs, this culminated in November with the deadly shooting at Club Q, where a gunman killed 5 people and wounded several others.
In 2023, the attacks show no signs of stopping. Bills introduced by Republican legislators are attacking LGBTQ rights in a multitude of ways, including but not limited to undermining antidiscrimination laws, censoring speech regarding the LGBTQ community and banning drag performances, as well as restricting or outright banning access to trans healthcare. In Colorado specifically, the most recent attack was an attempt to prevent trans students from participating in youth sports.
Trans participation in sports has been a major battleground in statehouses across the country in recent years. Dozens of bills have been issued, specifically targeted at banning trans girls and women from playing on girls and women’s sports teams. GOP-controlled states such as South Dakota and Mississippi have signed these bills into law, even though the number of transgender youths participating in sports is exceedingly small.
In Colorado, high school athletics is governed by the Colorado High School Athletics Association (CHSAA). Under CHSAA’s official policy, a trans student’s eligibility for a sports team is determined on a case-by-case basis by each individual school. In 2020, a CHSAA commissioner said that the policy had not caused any issues, and that there were no specific cases of trans athletes in Colorado winning contested events.
The Colorado bill also opens the door for “a student, school, or institution that suffers harm as a result of noncompliance with the bill” to take legal action as a result. Effectively, if a school allows a trans student to join an athletic team that corresponds with their gender identity, someone who feels that they were harmed by the trans student’s presence can sue the school in retaliation. The bill leaves open what “harm” means in this context, allowing would-be plaintiffs to sue for a multitude of reasons.
None of the legislators who sponsored the bill responded to an email asking how they would define “harm” in the context of this bill. This article will be updated with any response received.
Both Frizell and Bradley’s history of attacks against the LGBTQ community goes back further than this bill. In June of last year, before either representative was elected, they both joined several other Republicans in signing a letter calling for a 21+ drag comedy show in Highlands Ranch to be postponed, claiming the event was “too controversial” within the local community.
The event would draw numerous right-wing protesters, some displaying signs such as “freaks belong in the circus” and “don’t drag HR (Highlands Ranch) down.” Bradley herself was there in the crowd that day, her own sign reading “It’s OK To Take A Stand For God.”
“So, you know, when you stray so far away from the Constitution and natural law, then this is what’s happening,” Bradley said in an interview on the podcast “Annette on America” in Feb. 2022. “There is a war on Christians right now. And if we don’t wake up, we’re letting the minority decide what the majority wants. And I’ve been asleep. I’m awake now, and I hope that other people will do the same.” (19:04 – 19:24)
Bradley referenced her fears that educators are trying to “sneak” an LGBTQ agenda into Colorado’s school curriculum. She cited issues like these and Critical Race Theory – an advanced academic theory which is exclusively taught in higher education – as key reasons why she decided to run for office.
“They have the gingerbread man who’s a transgender cut out,” she said. “So we’re teaching kids how to, if you’re transgender male, how to tuck your anatomy and to make yourself look like a woman. I mean, it is actually unbelievable the fight that we’re up against. And they just sneak it in, right?” (14:39 – 14:59)
With Democrats controlling both houses of Colorado’s state legislature as well as the governor’s office, the chances of a bill that attacks the civil rights of LGBTQ people gaining traction are negligible. But according to Anaya Robinson, the ACLU of Colorado’s Senior Policy Strategist, this bill and others like it still have the potential to do harm.
“The concern, really, that exists, is the harm that it does to have the visual of another trans bill being introduced, and the impact that that has on trans folks, on our community, the youth in our community especially, in hearing over and over again that your existence shouldn’t exist. That your rights aren’t the same as your peers,” Robinson told the Colorado Times Recorder.
He continued that bills meant to target trans youths can be especially harmful to the well-being of those youths impacted by them: “It’s not a message a kid should have to receive on such a consistent basis, that their humanity is less than the other kids that they spend time with, go to class with, play sports with. And the idea that they shouldn’t be able to do those things is just so harmful to hear over and over,” Robinson said. “And especially when we’re that young, when we’re still forming our ideas of ourselves and who we are, and our communities, and our relationships, to know that people hate us enough to want us to not exist is a really hard reality to face.”
Robinson emphasized that the majority of Americans are supportive of trans rights, and oppose legislation that would take rights away from trans people. A poll by PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist in 2021 showed that 67% of adults across the U.S., regardless of party affiliation, oppose legislation by states that would block trans student athletes from joining a sports team that matches their gender identity. However, when it came to regulations by local authorities on specific age groups, the polls were more evenly split, with Republicans voting against trans participation more than Democrats.
Robinson also spoke to a need to hold elected officials — both Republican and Democrat — accountable when bills attacking trans rights are introduced.
“When these bills do happen, it’s important to look and see who in office is speaking out against them,” Robinson said. “Even in states where the bills aren’t going to go anywhere. Because it’s really really easy to know a bill’s going to die and feel like you don’t have to speak about it, and you don’t have to comment on it, regardless of how harmful it is. And that silence, in and of itself, is harmful.”