In a year of historic firsts for the LGBTQ community in Colorado politics, Gov. Jared Polis on Friday signed into law a pair of bills years in the making that seek to improve the lives of gay and transgender people in the state.
They mark the most significant LGBTQ rights legislation passed in Colorado since the state’s 2013 law allowing civil unions for same-sex couples and come after the election of Polis, the first openly gay man elected governor in the nation, and the first transgender person in the Colorado legislature.
“To see this legislation go through in a session that I’m here is really a great feeling,” said Rep. Brianna Titone, a transgender woman and Arvada Democrat. “But I’ve been testifying on these bills even before became elected. I’ve been fighting for these two issues for quite awhile.”
Polis signed House Bill 1039 and House Bill 1129 in a ceremony outside of the Colorado Capitol with dozens of supporters flanking him. One of the measures makes it easier for transgender people to change their birth certificates without surgery, a doctor’s note or a court order. The other bans so-called “gay conversion therapy” for minors.
Both bills had been introduced for several years in the Colorado legislature, but failed in the state Senate, which was then-controlled by Republicans for four years. Now with Democrats holding both chambers of the Capitol and the governor’s office, the measures passed — and received some bipartisan support.
“The Senate was always our obstacle in getting these bills passed,” Titone said. “It just so happened that we elected the first openly gay governor and myself, so everything just kind of fell together at the same time.”
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Polis called the measures “an important step forward … for an inclusive state that recognizes that diversity is a big part of our strength.” He recognized the history of the bills’ signing by pointing out Titone’s election and his partner, Marlon Reis, as being the first first gentleman in Colorado.
Polis often downplays the historic nature of his governorship, but the LGBT rights group One Colorado held its own inauguration ball to fette the state’s new chief executive and Polis opened his first State of the State address in January by saying “where you’re from and who you love are less important than what you are like and what you do for your community.”
The transgender birth certificate bill goes into effect next year. The conversion therapy ban for juveniles will be fully in effect by October.
“The practice of conversion therapy simply said to our children: ‘I don’t believe you. I don’t respect you and I do not respect you as you are,’” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Commerce City Democrat who sponsored the measure to outlaw it for children. “And that ends now.”
Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat who worked on the legislation with Michaelson Jenet, said the new law sends a clear message.
“Colorado is now officially saying that being gay does not need to be cured,” he said. “Being gay is not a disease that you need to see someone for. Instead it is something to be celebrated and accepted and welcomed with open arms.”
The transgender birth certificate measure is called “Jude’s Law,” named after a transgender teen in Colorado who has been testifying for four years — starting when she was 9 years old — in support of its passage.
“It’s very surreal. I haven’t really completely processed it,” Jude said after the signing ceremony Friday. She declined to provide her last name. “It’s kind of amazing to see if you just suit up and show up, come to the Capitol and tell your story — because that’s all I did each year –” what can happen.
Daniel Ramos, who leads the pro-LGBTQ group One Colorado, said the measure’s passage reflects shifting sentiments around the communities his organization represents.
“There’s been a lot of storytelling,” he said. “We know that we change hearts and minds is by people telling their stories. If people don’t know who LGBT folks are, if they don’t know what their experiences are, it can be hard to understand what we should do. With the work that we’ve done telling those stories, it’s really shifted the culture.”
He said the new laws will resonate beyond just the state’s borders.
“It is not only a historic moment for Colorado, but it’s also historic moment for this country to see a number of LGBTQ elected officials and our first openly gay governor signing pro-LGBTQ legislation,” Ramos said.