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Nicolais: By finally passing Jude’s Law, Colorado grows up a little

After advocating for passage of the birth certificate modernization bill, a 12-year-old girl made the state better for a friend I made a long time ago

Jude’s Law will soon be Colorado law. The bill to modernize the process for birth certificate gender changes has already passed the state House. It looks primed for a warm reception in the state Senate before it eventually lands on the desk of Colorado’s first LGBT governor.

That should bring a well-earned smile to the hard-charging 12-year-old whose advocacy championed the bill for the past four years. It might also be a welcome relief for a friend I met 30 years ago.

I’ve spent almost a decade working on behalf of equality for members of our LGBT community. My conservative belief in individual rights founded in the twin pillars of liberty and equality drove me to take a principled stand in contrast to the policy positions my political party adopted.

Mario Nicolais

But before I ever developed a nuanced ideology, I learned about the unfair struggles faced by transgender people in grade school.

I remember the first day of sixth grade vividly. Reliving summer adventures with friends, basking in the glory gained by reaching the apex of my elementary school, and meeting new students who had recently transferred.

Huddled with a small group of other not-quite-teenage boys, I remember one specific student became a point of earnest debate. As one of my friends put it to me, “that guy over there isn’t a guy, he’s a girl.”

I thought my friends were being ridiculous and chose to go greet our new student and try to make him feel welcome. I walked over, said hello, and told him not to mind the guys giving him a hard time about being a girl.

To the shock of my 11-year-old brain, he responded, “Dude, I am a girl.”

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Over the course of the next year we became friends, worked on school projects, and hung out together often. He told me that while he had been born a girl, he always felt more like a guy.

He had close-cut hair, wore baggy plaid shirts tucked into his jeans which were held up by a loop-leather belt. He wore Adidas sneakers — the envy of any late 1980’s boy.

He preferred to play football at recess, liked wrestling, and got into at least one fistfight I can remember. While most of our classmates accepted him readily, he always had to be wary of a snide or cutting remark.

He handled it with grace and nonchalance that I never could have appreciated as a child and only began to fully understand when I openly advocated for marriage equality as a thirty-something adult.

The daily struggle my friend went through explaining his gender must have taken a patience and courage that I cannot imagine. And again, this happened in the late 1980’s, so he didn’t have the benefit of terminology and social awareness that have evolved over the past three decades.

While teachers and parents may have understood — emphasis on the “may” — sixth-grade children are not renowned for their tolerance and acceptance.

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Particularly the boys. Even though I wasn’t the target, I still remember fairly regular crude comments aimed at him. He always seemed to shrug it off. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the sheer strength that must have taken nor the potential damage it may have inflicted.

Thirty years later, I see that same strength in Jude and her testimony.

The law won’t make birth certificates obsolete and won’t allow just anyone to request a change willy-nilly at the slightest whim.

Plenty of precautions still exist to ensure this bill benefits only those people who legitimately need it. Jude’s Law will, however, remove at least a little of the stigma and embarrassment transgender people have been subjected to through our state’s history.

While I can’t say that this law will make sixth-grade boys behave any better, I’m glad to know that thanks to Jude, her family and her friends, it does appear Colorado has grown up a little.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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