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Nicolais: Anti-transgender activists should take a lesson from Colorado

Scoring short-term political points among the conservative base at the cost of LGBTQ equality is a losing proposition

Just over a week ago, to comparatively little fanfare, Gov. Jared Polis signed into law a bill that will make discrimination against anyone based on gender identity expression unlawful.

In particular, the bill will protect the rights of transgender Coloradans in the same manner as the law currently protects people based on race, sex or religion. Given the increase in anti-transgender legislation introduced recently across the country, Colorado is among the most equitable states in the nation.

It is a far cry from where our state was just under a decade ago in the LGBTQ equality discussion. The civil unions saga at the state Capitol turned the statehouse chamber into anarchy and chaos. The resultant political ramifications swamped the Colorado GOP in the next election, a drubbing it has never recovered from.

Mario Nicolais

Republicans across the country may want to take note before continuing the current culture war. The short-term gain in engagement from their base could have devastating long-term consequences.

It seems likely that Republicans see an opening in the mixed views Americans hold on transgender equality according to recent polls. While a significant majority support allowing transgender Americans to serve in the military, most also believe that transgender athletes should be allowed to play sports only on teams that match their birth gender.

The latter issue has recently garnered national headlines when a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that would have banned transgender girls from competing in girls high school sports in Connecticut. The decision came only months after the Justice Department withdrew from the case.

While there is room for serious debate over the science behind hormone therapy and its effect on athletic performance, ambitious public officials in conservative states have jumped to the most politically advantageous conclusions. Rather than waiting for serious researchers to review the science, Republicans across the country have seized the topic to fire up their base. 

State legislators across the country have introduced bills that would ban participation in sports against cisgender athletes and suppress gender-affirming health care. Others have targeted government identification, school curriculum and civil rights protections.

While actual instances of controversy remain inordinately small, and threaten the mental health and wellbeing of transgender members of our society, these legislators have used the most high-profile conflicts to drum up fear and worry in their constituencies. They follow that up with self-aggrandizing statements about protecting “normal” people.  

The script seems eerily familiar to the “gay agenda” trope their predecessors trotted out 10 years ago. 

It didn’t work then, and it is not likely to work now. To the contrary, as more states enact pro-equality laws as Colorado has, it is likely that more Americans will become personally acquainted with individuals whose gender identity or expression does not match their gender assigned at birth. The vast majority will come to realize that there is no threat posed by another person’s gender choices.

That is exactly what led to dramatic changes in support for marriage equality among same-sex partners. In less than 20 years, support went from 35% to 61% of Americans. The primary driver was not political messaging, but simply interaction with actual people.

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It turns out that it is really hard to justify taking draconian measures against good people who simply want equal rights.

As we head into Pride Month, the issue of transgender equality will likely be front and center among activists and advocates. In many states, they will be fighting for recognition and inclusion, against opponents who care more about scoring political points than enacting equitable solutions.

Luckily, we live in Colorado, where our public officials have already taken significant steps toward full equality. Consequently, we can spend a little more time focusing on the PrideFest party two years in the making.


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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