Supporters and opponents of gender-affirming health care for transgender youth held consecutive rallies at the state Capitol over last weekend. Both included state legislators, advocacy groups and some counter-protestors, but that was where the similarities ended. After “Gays Against Groomers” (GAG), a national group founded just last year by a pro-Trump conservative media specialist, announced it was holding a rally at the Capitol on Saturday morning, pro-LGBTQ group One Colorado invited supporters, legislators and allies for a celebration of Colorado’s gender-affirming care laws on Friday afternoon. 

The Friday, Oct. 20 event saw about 100 people gather at the Capitol’s West Steps to listen to speakers share personal stories, praise Colorado Democratic majorities for protecting trans and non-binary health care, and warn of the increased volume and severity of misinformation and political attacks against LGBTQ people occurring across the county. Speakers (all of whom can be seen here) included members of the trans community, advocates from LGBTQ and reproductive rights organizations, and state Rep. Brianna Titone (D-Arvada), Colorado’s first transgender legislator, who thanked the crowd for coming out to support the trans community and promised to “have the back” of everyone there.

“If you’d told me five years ago that I would be standing here I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Noah, a 19 year-old trans college student. “I didn’t know what my future held, but I knew I wouldn’t have a future at all if I kept hiding who I was. I wouldn’t be here without the gender-affirming care I received. My transition saved my life.”

One Colorado spokesperson Alex noted that the purpose of GAG’s “Protect The Children” rally was, simply put, fear.

Indeed, on Saturday morning, Rich Guggenheim, spokesman for Gays Against Groomers’ Colorado chapter, made clear that GAG views gender-affirming healthcare as grooming or child abuse. 

“Our focus is on protecting children from transitioning, from indoctrination, the harmful textbooks and books that are going up in libraries that are pornographic in nature,” said Guggenheim. “And from what science tells us is harmful — physiologically and emotionally — to children who undergo what they call gender-affirming care, hormone therapy and surgery … They should not be subjected to pornography. They should not be subjected to ideology that encourages them to transition.”

Contrary to Guggenheim’s claims about “science,” academic research shows that gender-affirming care has enormous benefits for trans kids.

Echoing statements made by GAG online, Guggenheim says, “It’s become a fashion statement now for so many parents to say they have a transgender kid. And it’s erasing who their children really are.” He claims school mental health professionals and librarians want to “sexualize children,” which is how he characterized counseling about sexual orientation or gender identity at school, or making books that mention sex or sexuality available in school libraries, and questioned their motives for doing so. 

Asked if GAG’s position on removing books that reference sex or sexuality from libraries extends to public libraries, such as the main branch of the Denver Public Library across the street, as well as school libraries, Guggenheim confirmed that it does. “It applies to any library.” He later argued that libraries should keep books with sexual content in an age-restricted area and check IDs of patrons who wish to access it. 

Guggenheim was joined by Log Cabin Republicans of Colorado President Valdamar Archuleta, state Reps. Ryan Armogost (R-Berthoud) and Brandi Bradley (R-Littleton), and about a dozen other people for what was more of a sign-waving session than rally. 

In response to a person in a passing care yelling “bigot” at the group, Bradley shouted back, “Hetero-phobic! You’re hetero-phobic!” Given that almost all of their signs read “Gays Against Groomers,” it’s unclear why Bradley believed the heckler would presume she was straight.

Rep. Armagost, Rich Guggenheim, Joe, unknown, Rep. Bradley, & Valdamar Archuleta

Across the street from the fifteen or so GAG supporters stood about thirty members of the Parasol Patrol, an group of LGBT supporters who typically use their rainbow umbrellas as a barrier to block anti-LGBT protestors from disrupting events like Pride parades or drag queen story hours. In this case, they simply remained visible as counterprotestors themselves, playing Disney tunes and showing support for trans kids. 

Also among the small group of GAG supporters was anti-trans activist Christina Goeke, a self described “trans exclusionary radical feminist” or “TERF,” who repeatedly pointed across the street at members of the Parasol Patrol while shouting “pedophile” and “pedo” at them. In May, Goeke was asked to leave Colorado Springs’ Territory Days festival after posting anti-trans messages with stickers and chalk on the grounds of the street fair.

Goeke also interviewed Reps. Bradley and Armagost. Bradley told her, “we’re here to support Gays Against Groomers and all the people of Colorado who think that this is wrong and this is a form of child abuse.” Armagost pointed the blame at teachers.

“We have faculty and teachers unions pushing to guide those kids into gender dysphoria,” said Armagost. “It’s making them more confused, digging deeper into depression and everything else rather than letting them find their own identity.” 

Goeke then introduced Armagost to transhumanism, a philosophical and intellectual movement which advocates for the enhancement of the human condition by developing technologies that can enhance longevity and cognition. Historically, transhumanism has been concerned with things like age reversal and cryogenic preservation, counting among its adherents wealthy tech elites like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel, and anti-aging enthusiast Bryan Johnson. The popularity of transhumanism among the rich and powerful has led to conspiracy theories which claim that globalist elites will merge people with machines to control them, and that gender-affirming care for trans kids is the first step of this process. After explaining it to Rep. Armagost, he said it makes sense to him and promised to look into it further.

Rep. Armagost discusses the “transhumanism” conspiracy theory with an anti-trans podcaster.

Christina Goeke: The political agenda currently seems to be uh the pathway to transhumanism. Are you aware of transhumanism? 

Rep. Ryan Armagost: I’m not, no. 

CG: So it’s this idea that humans will eventually like basically meld with machines. They’re going to completely control every aspect of humanity. A lot of the rich elites talk about this. Martine Rothblatt on a TED Talk talks about downloading your mind into a mind file on a computer and living forever. um so I feel like and Jennifer Bilek does a lot- she talks about following the money. If you follow the money and you look at it, this is what they’re trying to get us to. 

RA: Oh absolutely. 

CG: It’s transhumanism — you should definitely look into that. 

RA: I will absolutely.

CG:  It helps put the pieces together why there’s such a huge push to medicalize our children. 

RA: Yeah.

CG: If they can like separate you from your sex body, then you’re just parts, right? That’s what transhumanism is all about. 

RA: Yeah, that makes sense. 

CG: Yeah, for sure. Well, thank you, Ryan, for being here.

Speaking to the Colorado Times Recorder, Armagost repeated his belief that public school teachers are encouraging students to transition.

“I think our educators are trying to get into the business of mental health and pushing kids toward picking the gender rather than letting parents do that, said Armagost. “That’s not the business public school need to be into. They need to stick to academia.”

A GAG national board member, Joe (he didn’t give his last name), repeated Armagost’s accusations of teachers, but he narrowed the focus, pointing the finger specifically at LGBT teachers.

CTR: Why would teachers want to encourage students to transition? What’s their motivation?

GAG: I wish I knew the full reasons. I can suspect reasons. Some of it is to create a space for them [the teachers] to feel accepted of their own path. To confuse them [students], to be predatory towards them. 

CTR: So is it trans teachers who are doing this?

GAG: Not always. It’s LGB teachers. It’s LGBT teachers.

The rally was one of 75 simultaneous Stop the War on Children rallies around the country, according to Joe. GAG partnered with several other conservative — largely Christian — groups including Moms For Liberty and the Gavel Project. Asked where GAG, which is a 501c4 dark money group, gets its funding, Joe said most of it comes from online donations and some from merchandise sales. GAG isn’t required to disclose its donors and the group is too new to appear in any IRS tax filings, but the Southern Poverty Law Center identified several large religious right funders as donors to the rally partner groups.