DENVER – With gay marriage gaining acceptance in America, advocates in Colorado have set their sights on a new frontier – transgender rights.
The entire legal conundrum facing gay couples is not fully settled. The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to tackle whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, with a ruling expected by June.
But for many Americans, the issue is settled after lower federal courts across the country ruled bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, including in Colorado, where same-sex marriage now is legal.
Given the progress, LGBT advocates now are focused on transgender issues.
A measure being proposed for Colorado – which likely will be introduced within the next two weeks – would make it easier for transgender people to change the sex marking on their birth certificates.
The current process requires sex-reassignment surgery in order to qualify. The legislation, which has been proposed by two openly gay lawmakers, also would include hormone treatment, among other “transitional” options.
“They identify how they identify, and they live their life how they identify, and they express their gender how they do, but the state shouldn’t have a requirement that we inspect your genitalia when you’ve made a private medical decision about your health,” said Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Westminster, who will be sponsoring the measure along with Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City.
For Durango physician Jude Harrison, the issue is as personal as it gets. Harrison, who was born female, simply thought he was a tomboy. But as time went on, he realized he identified as a man. Now 61 years old, Harrison began hormone treatment in 2013.
“My being a man has nothing to do with what’s between my legs,” Harrison said.
He spoke of the legal issues he faces as a result of not having all government-issued documents match in the gender category. As a physician, this has affected licensing. It also comes up when Harrison travels, having to go through security and show identification.
“What one does to transition is going to be a different decision for every person, and for some people, they’re never going to do surgery; and so to have a requirement to have to do surgery to change your birth certificate marker doesn’t fit with what’s going to happen for a number of people for the rest of their lives,” Harrison said.
Dave Montez, executive director of Colorado LGBT advocacy group One Colorado, said transgender issues are important because they come with a host of health and safety issues, as well.
Studies have shown that trans people are subject to more harassment and bullying, resulting in high rates of depression and thoughts of suicide.
“With gay and lesbian people, we saw this incredible change, not just in laws, but in public perception, and we need to do that with transgender people, as well,” Montez said. “But in order to do that, we’ve got to reduce barriers.”
The battle, however, is uphill, especially in a divided Legislature where Republicans control the Senate and Democrats hold the House.
One Republican in the House already has introduced a measure that would allow locker room owners to restrict access to a changing space if the person is transgender.
Montez described the measure as being “engineered to drive up fear and confusion ... in a hurtful, dishonest and dehumanizing way.”
But Rep. Kim Ransom, R-Littleton, said the issue is difficult for parents who have not had that conversation yet with their children. Even though a person might identify as a woman and use the women’s locker room, they still might have male genitalia, which could confuse small children sharing the same space.
“I would just hope that we wouldn’t have to expose especially young children that just haven’t learned yet,” Ransom said. “I want my children to have an understanding and tolerance of everybody. But I’m a protective mom.”
The state’s seven gay lawmakers – all Democrats – already are at odds with Republicans about other LGBT bills this year. One bill has been introduced by Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, which would clean up conflicts in statute between civil unions and gay marriage, clarifying that one can’t marry someone in a civil union.
Republicans controlling the Senate have assigned the transgender measure to the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, widely known as a “kill committee” for unfavorable legislation by the controlling party.
“The only people that seem to be really hung up on it seem to work in this building,” Steadman said during an interview at the Colorado Capitol.
To be fair, House Democrats have assigned Ransom’s locker room bill to the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, also considered a kill committee for controlling Democrats in that chamber.
But Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said gay-marriage issues are not for the Legislature to decide. Coram opposed civil unions in 2012, despite having a gay son.
He told The Durango Herald that if he was faced with a ballot question legalizing civil unions or gay marriage, he would have supported it. But he doesn’t believe it is the Legislature’s place to decide, especially after voters banned gay marriage.
“I just didn’t think the Legislature has the right to overturn what the voters have done,” Coram said.
Concerning the transgender bill, he said, “It doesn’t rise to the top of my priority list, but if this comes forward, and it passes, I don’t care.”