Gay rights and parents' rights clashed at the Colorado Capitol on Thursday, as a Democratic-led House committee dispatched seven bills sponsored by Republicans.
The package covered parental rights, banning transgender athletes from girl's sports, charging medical professionals who assist transgender youth and allowing businesses to deny service for religious reasons.
After 12 hours of testimony that went into early Friday morning, they were all voted down by the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee along party lines, a nearly certain conclusion for the bills deemed hostile by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Coloradans.
Testimony covered touching personal stories on both sides. Allegations touched on government overreach, sanctioned discrimination, child abuse, teen suicide, racism, falsely accused parents and poor decisions by public agencies.
LGBTQ advocates rallied at the Capitol and testified late into the night, as parents and religious affiliates supported the legislation.
Daniel Ramos, the executive director of One Colorado, the state's largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, said it was important for his side to make a stand, even if the bills were bound to fail before the Democratic majority.
While the state is being recognized for its advances in gay rights, it still faces challenges such as those presented by Republicans in Thursday's package.
"We saw the most aggressive slate of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in at least the last 10 years," Ramos said. "We need to show up and share the stories of our families, tell our stories, and defeat these bills."
The legislation that got perhaps the the most argument was the Parents Bill of Rights, House Bill 1144, to ensure parents can view all records and make health care decisions regarding their children. Opponents saw the bill as a pathway to teen suicide and depression for LGBTQ youth, who would not be able to confide in doctors or counselors.
During the testimony, committee chair Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, asked a father a hypothetical question.
"I say this with humility, but if a child made a decision they were going to trust a teacher with this information, but chose not to trust a parent, and we were to put in place a law saying that teacher must report it to the parent, is the natural result of that that the kid chooses not to speak to anyone at all?" he asked.
After about seven and a half hours of testimony, Kennedy was blunt and accusatory toward Rep. Tim Geitner, R-Colorado Springs, for his bill to allow parents at underperforming schools to enact reforms, House Bill 1111.
He accused Geitner of only talking to the school-reform advocacy group Ready Colorado before submitting his bill.
"Have you talked to a single Democrat on this committee about the bill, other than to schedule it," Kennedy said to Geitner. "I don't think this is a serious effort, and when I hear members of this committee talk about this being an unfair process it is outrageous to me, because this is a fundamentally unserious proposal that you brought forward with no stakeholding and scarcely any work I can pick up on, and now you're expecting us to do your job for you and send it to another committee? That's not how this works."
Geitner said he also talked to parents and students.
Rep. Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance, spoke up and asked Kennedy to ease up.
"I don't appreciate the way you're talking to Rep. Geitner," Humphrey said, before the committee voted down the bill about 9 p.m. and took a break.
Former state Sen. Evie Hudak, a Democrat from Arvada, spoke on behalf of the Colorado PTA, an organization of more than 20,000 members, and its opposition to the Parents Bill of Rights.
She said the proposed Parents Bill of Rights was loaded with perhaps unintended consequences that would make it difficult to run a school system.
She cited such examples as parents having a direct say in hiring and firing decisions on teachers and administrators, curriculum, health care and discipline, including attempts to curb bullying.
"We believe this legislation is unnecessary and unduly severe," Hudak said.
She named existing laws that already give parents informed consent regarding their children, including medical, educational and religious decisions.
Meredith Martinez, who opposed the bill, pointed out she's a parent and a Democrat who does not dislike gay people or wish to harm children. She opposes vaccinations, she said.
"I don't want my son to be in a room with a doctor by himself," she said. "I don't want my son to be coerced at school to get more vaccinations, because my sons are at risk for injury."
Thea Jackson told the committee that parents have inherent rights. She said she could not understand the opposition to the bill, because it would help parents of LGBTQ children.
"A large portion of them ... they are not even parents," she said of those speaking against the bill. "What's up with that?"
Jeff Hunt, the vice president of policy at Colorado Christian University, exercised his parental rights when he left the hearing to go pick up his children up from school.
He left an impassioned statement, read by Broomfield-based political consultant Sheryl Fernandez.
"It appears that some, primarily interested in supporting the agendas of special interest, want to remove parents from the equation of raising their children," Fernandez said for Hunt. "Parents are not the enemy ... Parents and the family structure are created by God to be primary caregivers of their children.
"Parents care, they nurture, they educate and they prepare their children better than any government or special interest ever can."
The other bills defeated Thursday were:
- House Bill 1063, called “Fundamental Family Rights,” would have raised the burden for government to intercede on behalf of children.
- House Bill 1114, called “Protection of Minors from Mutilation and Sterilization,” would have made sex reassignment treatment on anyone 17 or young a third-degree felony for medical professionals.
- House Bill 1273, the Equality And Fairness In Youth Sports Act, would have prohibited transgender girls from participating on girls sports teams in sixth through 12th grades.
- House Bill 1272, the Colorado Natural Marriage And Adoption Act, called for the enforcement of the state laws that still define a valid marriage as between one man and one woman.
- House Bill 1033, the Live and Let Live Act, is aimed at ensuring religious liberty, but LGBTQ proponents said was a license for religious affiliates to discriminate.
Deborah Flora, the nationally syndicated radio host with Colorado ties, said laws are restricting a vast majority of parents to solve the threats presented by a very few.
"This broad bill is needed because parental rights are being threatened in multiple areas, and the onslaught is coming from many directions," she said in support of House Bill 1063.
Rep. Brianna Titone, D-Arvada, spoke about being the state's first transgender legislator.
"The sponsors of these bills don't see the consequences they will have on the LGBTQ community," she said.
Titone said many people just don't understand the transgender community.
"It's not because they won't try to understand or that they won't listen," Titone said. "No one can truly understand and know what it's like to be gay or trans unless you are."
Rep. Shane Sandridge, R-Colorado Springs, began his presentation about the legislation on preventing sex-change and hormone therapy for transgender children, by thanking the transgender community for being willing to talk with him about his bill.
"We have a common goal to make sure our kids are taken care of in the best way possible," he said.