Rep. Stephanie Vigil (D-Colorado Springs) responded yesterday to Colorado GOP Director of Special Initiatives Darcy Schoening’s recent party-wide email urging parents to remove their kids from public schools and claiming Democrats want to “turn more kids trans.” Schoening’s email specifically identified legislation sponsored by Vigil, this year’s House Bill 1039, Non-legal Name Changes in Schools.

Rep. Stephanie Vigil

“In partnership with the Colorado Youth Advisory Council, I carried HB24-1039 this legislative session, which requires school boards and pilot schools to adopt policies prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender expression, including the use of a student’s chosen name,” said Vigil in a news release. “I carried this bill because I believe, like most Coloradans, that everyone deserves to be accepted and affirmed for who they are, and that students especially deserve a safe, welcoming learning environment. This is about combating the ongoing bullying and harassment that LGBTQ+ students often face at school, and the uniquely cruel attacks their families endure. As a representative for the Club Q neighborhood, and a member of the queer community myself, including many members of my own family, I am keenly aware of the vitriol being directed at us for political gain. Contrary to the misinformation, being seen and accepted is a life-saving protective factor for transgender youth, and a matter of respect for their parents’ rights.”

According to data from the 2021 Healthy Kids Survey, which measures the number of youth engaging in health-risk behaviors and the number practicing health-promoting behaviors, 28% of percent of transgender youth reported having been bullied on school property, and 26% of transgender youth who took the survey reported attempting suicide one or more times.

Schoening’s email attacked Vigil and the other bill sponsors. “Sadly, with Democrats in the super majority in Denver, Non-Legal Name Changes – House Bill 24-1039, passed and was signed into law by Governor Polis,” she wrote. “The bill, sponsored by four far-left progressives, two of whom do not know their own genders and do not have children, requires teachers in public schools to use ‘pronouns’ for kids with gender confusion that do not align with their actual scientific gender, without parental consent.”

Vigil’s bill does not specifically address the subject of parental consent, allowing schools and districts to set policies as needed, such as El Paso County charter school Monument Academy’s policy requiring parental notification if a child requests to be identified with a name or pronouns that do not correspond to their gender assigned at birth.

Darcy Schoening, Colorado Republican Party

“If your child decides he identifies as a girl because he is angry with you, or all of his friends are doing it, the Colorado government will actively encourage his new fetish by allowing him to identify as ‘she,’ ‘they,’ or whatever nonsensical terms your son’s teachers and peers may dream up…all without notifying you of your child’s disturbing behavior, which should be treated rather then encouraged,” wrote Schoening, parroting the lies and misinformation that have been used by right-wing commentators to attack transgender people in recent years.

Schoening’s description of transgender identity as a “fetish” is a reference to the theory of autogynephilia put forth in 1989 by sexologist Ray Blanchard, who argues that a subset of transgender women are motivated to transition due to sexual arousal, pathologizing transgender identity as a paraphilia — a psychiatric disorder that involves persistent and recurrent sexual interests, fantasies, urges, or behaviors that are not culturally sanctioned. 

According to biochemist and author Julia Serano, “Blanchard’s controversial theory is built upon a number of incorrect and unfounded assumptions, and there are many methodological flaws in the data he offers to support it.”

Despite disagreements over the validity of Blanchard’s work, anti-trans activists have latched onto autogynephilia as a way of painting transgender people as sexual predators.

Additionally, Schoening’s claims that children will adopt a transgender identity due to peer influence or social contagion is a reflection of the equally controversial theory of “rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD),” which was coined in 2018 by researcher and physician Lisa Littman. Littman’s initial publication received intense criticism due to the concerns that only parents were interviewed, the websites used to recruit those parents were biased, that it suggested that gender dysphoria or a transgender identity could be “socially contagious,” it relied on a pathologizing framework, and it made premature diagnostic suggestions.

In 2021, the American Psychological Association and 61 other health care providers’ organizations signed a letter denouncing rapid onset gender dysphoria. “There are no sound empirical studies of ROGD and it has not been subjected to rigorous peer-review processes that are standard for clinical science,” read the position statement. “Further, there is no evidence that ROGD aligns with the lived experiences of transgender children and adolescents. Despite the lack of evidence for ROGD and its significant potential for creating harm, it has garnered increased attention in the general public and is being misused within and beyond the field of psychology. For example, recent medical articles have started including ROGD in their overview of adolescents with gender incongruence, and there has been an increase in books, videos, podcasts, and training directed to parents and clinicians offering strategies for diagnosing and treating ROGD. The proliferation of misinformation regarding ROGD is also infiltrating policy decisions. Currently, there are over 100 bills under consideration in legislative bodies across the country that seek to limit the rights of transgender adolescents, many of which are predicated on the unsupported claims advanced by ROGD. Thus, even though ROGD is not a diagnostic classification or subtype in either the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), nor is it under consideration for inclusion in future editions, it is critical to address the misinformation regarding ROGD now.” 

Additionally, a 2023 study which claimed to describe more than 1,600 possible cases of social contagion was retracted last year for failing to obtain ethics approval from an institutional review board.

“Unfortunately, some have instead chosen hate, intolerance, and dishonesty to play on people’s fears, misrepresenting what this law does and what it means for our kids,” said Vigil. “No amount of threatening or shaming will deter me, and I will always work to advance freedom and safety for everyone, especially for this targeted community.”