Trans rights bills advance in Colorado House

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Democratic state Rep. Brianna Titone speaks during House debate on HB 1039, Friday, Feb. 21, 2024. The measure calls for public schools to use a student’s chosen name, including a name that conforms to their gender identity.

The Colorado House initially approved two bills related to transgender rights Friday afternoon. The bills still need a final vote before they go to the Senate. 

One of the measures aims to make it easier for transgender people with felony records to legally change their names to conform with their gender. The other would require K-12 schools to have written policies for using a student’s chosen name and pronouns.

Ahead of the floor discussion, Democratic lawmakers were concerned the debate with Republicans might turn into a fight over the boundaries of free speech in the chamber.

But the afternoon proceeded with only occasional flare-ups, which were quickly met by breaks in the debate to defuse tensions. Additional security was situated outside the public viewing gallery and the Democrats who control the chamber worked with Republican leadership to be firm on protocols for decorum and speech on the chamber floor.

“I think what you heard a lot today was us gaveling out and trying to slow down… and redirecting,” said Assistant Majority Leader Jennifer Bacon of Denver. 

There were some tense moments, when a couple of Republican lawmakers conflated transgender people with sexual predators. Democrats pushed back forcefully against that rhetoric.

“We're repeating a lot of the same things over and over again to demonize a group of people, to put fear about a group of people who are just trying to exist, just trying to be who they are and do whatever they want to do in life just like everybody else,” said Democratic Rep. Brianna Titone of Arvada, the state’s only transgender lawmaker.

At one point an observer in the gallery shouted, “Lies and blasphemy!” several times, before voluntarily leaving. The outburst came as Republican Rep. Scott Bottoms of Colorado Springs made claims that the felon name change bill would fail to hold people accountable for their “sexual predator background.”

Later in the day, a Republican and Democrat veered toward a confrontation during a break in the debate, but a House sergeant and others stepped in to separate the members and deescalate the situation.   

Democratic Rep. Mike Weissman of Aurora was presiding over the chamber during some of those moments. He said he wants lawmakers to remember that their words and actions in the House have an impact outside of the building.

“We have to not contribute with our words to problems that already exist. That is a challenge that we all face, both parties,” said Weissman. “That's a bigger issue than the question of decorum, but believe me, it's something that's on a lot of our minds.”