Three of Colorado’s Republican congressional candidates welcomed support from a PAC fighting to limit or ban trans women in sports

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Transgender Sports Ban Utah
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A 12-year-old transgender swimmer waits by a pool on Feb. 22, 2021, in Utah. Transgender kids in Utah will be not be subjected to sports participation limits at the start of the upcoming school year after a judge delayed the implementation of a statewide ban passed earlier this year. Judge Keith Kelly’s decision Friday, Aug. 19, 2022, to put the law on hold until a legal challenges is resolved came after he recently rejected a request by Utah state attorneys to dismiss the case.

Colorado Republicans recently gathered at a home in El Paso County for the formal launch of a new federal PAC with a very specific mission — supporting candidates who pledge to fight the inclusion of trans women and girls in women’s sports. 

Numerous state lawmakers were in attendance for the event, as was GOP gubernatorial hopeful Heidi Ganahl, who spoke in support of the effort, although as a state candidate she can’t receive any of the PAC’s money.

“I've grown to respect and love all the people involved in women's sports. It's really important that we protect that for our daughters and I will be a warrior for that,” Ganahl told the crowd. 

The PAC supports policies that many states have enacted into laws, ones that opponents argue harm trans youth.

Nine PAC — the name is a reference to Title IX, the law which requires schools to include women in their athletic programs — is the brainchild of Eli Bremer, a former Olympic pentathlete from Colorado Springs. He says the goal is to donate to 100 congressional candidates before the midterm election. 

“It's about saying that women under Title IX, under federal law, have and should maintain the integrity of their sports,” said Bremer. “Those sports should be preserved for biological women, for girls to compete for scholarships against other biological girls. And that's what we're advocating for.”

Trans people and their allies consider terms like “biological women” inaccurate and often offensive, especially when used to exclude trans people from their gender. Colorado protects trans people’s right to compete in school sports. But 18 other states have enacted laws or rules to limit or ban their participation, policies that opponents argue harm trans youth who are already vulnerable to bullying and discrimination in other areas of their lives. 

Tony Gorman/CPR News
Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl (L) and Nine PAC co-chair Riley Gaines prepares for an interview at the Nine PAC fundraiser.

Bremer also made opposition to trans women in sports a centerpiece of an unsuccessful U.S Senate bid earlier this year.

In an op-ed responding to his candidacy, Meike Babel, a former professional tennis player from Germany wrote:

“Compared to cisgender athletes, trans athletes face discrimination and alienating rules that cisgender people can’t even begin to fathom. Trans athletes deserve to play the same as any other athlete. Anyone who fights to be themselves on and off the field or court are role models of inner strength and resiliency. As athletes and as human beings, we learn from each other when we are around people who embrace who they are.”

Three Republican candidates pledged to support the PAC's goals — such as preventing trans women athletes from competing in women's sports — and collected novelty checks from the group.

On the night of the launch, three Colorado Republican candidates were on hand to take a verbal pledge to support the group’s goals and collect oversized novelty checks for the $2,900 Nine PAC is giving to their campaigns — Barbara Kirkmeyer, who is running for Colorado’s new 8th district, Erik Aadland, who’s running in CO-7, and Steve Monahan, the candidate in the 6th congressional district.

All three pledged to work to prevent trans women athletes from competing in women’s sports or using women’s locker rooms.

Aadland noted he has three children, including two daughters, and is running in part to protect their future.

“The fact of the matter is we've lost common sense as a society,” he said. “The fact that we are having this discussion right here tonight, and that it is taking up the airwaves is almost unbelievable to me because we have bigger things to focus on, but right now we have to make this fight, because radical progressives have brought a narrative that just does not make sense, and the world is turned upside down.”

The pledge was administered by former All-American swimmer Riley Gaines, who co-chairs the PAC with Bremer. 

Gaines has become a leading opponent to the participation of transgender athletes in NCAA women’s events. While competing for the University of Kentucky, Gaines tied with University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas for fifth place in the 200 yard freestyle. A day earlier, Thomas won a national championship with a victory in the 500-yard freestyle. 

Tony Gorman/CPR News
Nine PAC executive director Riley Scott, Nine PAC co-chairs Riley Gaines and Eli Bremer watch as Colorado congressional candidate Barbara Kirkmeyer addresses the crowd.

“I was waiting and waiting for someone to say something, because, as a 22-year-old girl, I didn't necessarily feel like it was my place,” Gaines told the crowd. “I didn't feel equipped for that. I still don't feel equipped for all of this. But I was so sick of waiting. So I took it upon myself to speak out about how crazy this is.”

In an interview with ABC News, Thomas said she delayed transitioning out of fear of losing her chance to swim competitively, only beginning hormone therapy after enduring debilitating depression her sophomore year.

“Trans people don't transition for athletics,” she told ABC. “We transition to be happy and authentic and our true selves. And transitioning to get an advantage is not something that ever factors into our decisions.”

World swimming’s governing body has since effectively banned transgender women from competing in women’s events.

One GOP consultant calls the PAC's focus ‘issue number 742,000.' Colorado’s first trans lawmaker says the PAC is 'an issue in search of a problem.'

During his campaign for the GOP nomination for Senate earlier this year, Bremer made trans sports participation a centerpiece of his campaign. But GOP political consultant Tyler Sandberg said it’s certainly not the issue most top of mind for most GOP voters in Colorado. 

“I would say that fairness in sports is something that everyone cares about. But in terms of priorities, it's about issue number 742,000,” said Sandberg. “Inflation, cost of living, crime. These are issues that are driving debate at the capitol, driving debate among families at the dinner table.” 

Even if it’s not top of mind for most voters, Sandberg doesn’t think the PAC’s support will necessarily hurt these candidates. A recent poll from NPR/Ipsos shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose allowing transgender women and girls to compete on female sports teams. 

That said, Sandberg doesn’t expect these GOP candidates to make it a priority if elected, “because policy is rightly and should be focused on lowering the cost of living, improving public safety.” 

If they were to win and take up the issue though, they wouldn’t be alone in the delegation. Western Slope Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert has introduced a number of anti-trans bills during her first term in office, including one to strip Lia Thomas of her national title. None have gone anywhere in the Democratic-controlled House.

At the state level, Colorado’s Republican lawmakers haven’t focused on trans issues. In recent years, the state has actually moved to increase rights for transgender people, such as making it possible for people to more easily change the gender on their birth certificates and allowing nonbinary language on state IDs

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
State Rep. Brianna Titone on the House floor as the Colorado General Assembly opened its 2021 session on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

Democratic state Rep. Brianna Titone, Colorado’s first trans lawmaker, says the PAC is an issue in search of a problem. 

“It's not an epidemic of trans women coming out as being trans to compete in sports and to beat everybody. Like, that's an absurd thing,” said Titone, who describes bans on trans athletes as another way to discriminate against school children who just want to participate in sports. 

“There's not enough trans people in communities for people to know who we are. And when they don't know something and they don't know somebody and they can't put a face to a name or an idea, it's easy to perpetuate those tropes,” said Titone.

Bremer maintains that Nine PAC is not anti-trans, arguing “this is not anything about that. This is about protecting the integrity of women's sports.”

He said he views the PAC as part of a longer-term effort to educate people.