Colorado Republicans go after 4 party members who signed a letter in support of trans Montana lawmaker

· Jun. 23, 2023, 4:48 pm
Republican state Rep. Ron Weinberg, at the Capitol, March 2, 2023.

The Colorado GOP has formally rebuked several Republican elected officials for signing on to a letter in May in support of Democratic Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, who is transgender, after she was banned from the Montana House floor. 

In the resolution adopted this week, the state party’s Executive Committee apologizes to the Montana Republican Party and Montana House Republicans: “For the disgraceful actions of the four elected local and state Republican officeholders who were willing pawns to an outrageous publicity stunt on behalf of the Colorado House Democrats and Rep. Brianna Titone.”

Titone, Colorado’s first transgender state lawmaker, spearheaded the letter.

While the vast majority of signers were Democrats, Republican state Reps. Ron Weinberg of Loveland and Rick Taggart of Grand Junction also added their names, as did two local GOP elected officials.

The letter from the state party says the Colorado Republicans who signed the letter 'should know better and understand the stakes'

The letter expressed “extreme dismay” over the decision to ban Missoula-area state Rep. Zephyr from the Montana House floor for her comments opposing a bill to ban gender-affirming care for minors.

“We rise in support of a lawmaker who is doing what she has been charged to do: Stand up and speak out on behalf of constituents on issues directly impacting them,” the letter states. “Your actions strike at the heart of our democracy and the rights of Montanans to have their voices heard.”

This week, GOP State Party Chair Dave Williams sent a fundraising email to members blasting the Republicans who signed onto it. 

“Radical Democrats support groomers who ‘teach’ your children about so-called gender-affirming care ... this is sick and the Colorado Republican Party will speak against it even if misguided members of our Party unwittingly help Democrats push it.”

Silenced Transgender LawmakerAP
State Rep. Zooey Zephyr walks into the State Capitol on her first day of remote voting, Thursday, April 27, 2023 in Helena, Mont.

The term “grooming” — which describes how an older person may build a relationship with a younger person in order to exploit and abuse them — has been co-opted in recent years by opponents of LGBTQ rights and protections and used against the community.

Williams said the GOP’s executive committee overwhelmingly approved the resolution reprimanding the letter signers. It asks Weinberg and Taggart, as well as Castle Pines Councilman Roger Hudson and Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon, to “execute better judgment in the future.” 

Williams said Montana Republicans were correct to try to regain order in their chamber by silencing Zephyr and that by signing the letter, the four Republicans were essentially helping spread Democratic lies. 

“Elected Republicans should know better and understand the stakes,” wrote Williams. “They should especially know not to help dishonest Democrats score political points by attacking fellow Republicans who only want to protect children from groomers.” 

The Colorado House Republican caucus declined to comment on the latest rebuke, noting that whether or not to sign the Democratic letter wasn’t a caucus decision.

For his part, Castle Pines Councilman Roger Hudson called the resolution extraordinary. In a formal written statement to the party, he argued it was an improper use of the Republican Party’s time and resources.

“The state party has one single function, as you all well know, TO GET REPUBLICANS ELECTED. The resolution presented here is counter to that purpose and only weakens us.”

Hudson, who also serves as the Deputy Chief of Staff for the Colorado House Minority said the resolution was “weaponizing my state party against me and other Republicans” for exercising their First Amendment rights. 

The letter is emblematic of a more confrontational approach within the Colorado GOP

The move from Williams and other party officials is the latest evidence that party leadership is embracing a more confrontational approach with its own members.

Earlier this month Williams called out Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn, who represents the 5th Congressional District in Colorado Springs, for voting in support of the debt ceiling compromise, which passed the U.S House with widespread support.

Williams has also forged a new deal with Libertarians in Colorado to try to get more “pro-liberty” Republican candidates on the ballot, and said he sees part of that effort as leverage against GOP candidates he feels aren’t truly representing the party’s values. 

Williams was selected as chairman in March and said the party’s grassroots elected him to push forward a conservative platform. He told CPR News that for too long “establishment Republicans” have sold out conservative values and weakened the party brand.

Then-Republican state Rep. Dave Williams, now head of the state party, addresses lawmakers as the Colorado General Assembly opened its 2021 session on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

The move to rebuke the GOP letter-signers drew criticism from the lawmaker behind the effort.

“The amount of spin on the Republican position is dizzying,” said Democratic state Rep. Titone of the GOP resolution. “If they expect to win elections, admonishing their members for calling out First Amendment abuses is not the way.”

As Republican-run states like Montana have moved to ban or restrict access to gender-affirming care, Colorado has a new law aimed at ensuring access. The law extends legal protections to medical professionals who provide gender-affirming care to out-of-state patients, including minors.

Multiple medical studies have found that transgender youth are at higher risk of suicide than their cisgender peers, and that receiving gender-affirming care can reduce that risk. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “developmentally appropriate” gender-affirming care for trans youth.

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