Last week, Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed four bills into law that expand the rights available to LGBTQ people in the Centennial State.
The bills limit the use of the gay and transgender “panic” defense as a legal strategy, allow minors to obtain new birth certificates that accurately reflect their gender identity, make it easier for state residents to obtain pharmaceutical drugs, like Truvada for PrEP, that help prevent HIV transmission, and take pharmaceutical rebates and use the money to fund a drug assistance program for low-income individuals who are infected with HIV.
Daniel Ramos, of One Colorado, the state’s leading LGBTQ advocacy organization, praised the signing of the bills, noting that they had to overcome several hurdles, particularly Senate Bill 221, which outlawed the gay and trans panic defense.
“Although the legislative session took many twists and turns this year, we are proud to see these bills make it through,” Ramos said in a statement to ColoradoPolitics.com. “We are grateful to our legislators and to all Coloradans who advocated to see these bills pass with bipartisan support.”
The bill banning the gay and trans panic defense was previously killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee after the legislature resumed following a seven-week recess due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ostensibly, the bill was killed in order to focus on other, more pressing concerns, with Senate leaders saying they weren’t aware of any attempts to use the defense in Colorado.
But Colorado Democrats, particularly LGBTQ members of the General Assembly, were outraged and quickly introduced another bill to ban the panic defense in June.
“When we came back into session, a lot of bills that weren’t COVID-related, per se, ended up on the ‘kill list’ to just get rid of off the calendar so we could focus on the bills that we need to do for COVID relief and the financial issues that we were trying to fix,” explains Rep. Brianna Titone (D-Arvada), the first openly transgender member of the Colorado General Assembly.
Titone said she wrote to Senate leaders and the Senate sponsors of the bill to see if they could revive it.
“At the same time, I started a petition online, just to get people to know that this bill died and that we do have a chance to bring it back and to get some support from the public, to show [Senate leaders] that this is something that we should do,” she told Metro Weekly in an interview.
“It was an effort to really make it public that the public really wants this bill to pass. It turns out that the time limit [for reviving the bill] had passed, so it would have to actually be re-introduced again. So I went to the House leadership and filled out the paperwork to get the bill put back on the calendar again.”
In the course of conversations with Senate and House Democratic leaders, Titone says they realized that it would be better for the Senate to bring up the measure once again.
It unanimously passed committee, and then the full Senate, then passed committee unanimously in the House. On the third reading, only one House lawmaker voted against it.
“It is difficult to explain the politics and how everything works,” says Titone, who understands that legislative leaders were simply trying to be efficient in order to pass bills quickly without risking getting lawmakers and staffers sick from COVID-19.
“But, what I heard from outside the building — and I’m talking about the protests outside the Capitol — was that the Black Lives Matter movement was calling for justice for Black lives. And to me, what this bill really does is stand up for Black trans women, who are the most vulnerable subgroup of the LGBTQ community. And this is something that really says that we care about black trans women and the LGBTQ community as a whole.”
Titone notes that the gay or trans “panic” defense has previously been utilized, unsuccessfully, in Colorado in the trial of Allen Andrade, who was convicted for the 2008 murder of transgender woman Angie Zapata, a Latina Greeley resident, allegedly because he was so disturbed that she was transgender.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, claimed at trial that there was no such deception and that Andrade had known about Zapata’s gender identity before getting involved.
“Had there not been the evidence that proved that this guy did, in fact, know she was trans, he may have gotten away with it. But there was enough evidence,” Titone says.
“But a lot of cases don’t have that kind of definitive evidence that can help with a case. And if they’re using this defense, if it’s your word against the person who’s been murdered, they can’t speak for themselves anymore in this defense can be used in that case. And that’s wrong.”
The other pro-LGBTQ bills passed with bipartisan support and much less turmoil, although some lawmakers expressed concerns about the bill allowing access to HIV prevention medications.
“What it really comes down to is that the preventative medications for HIV end up saving money when you can prevent people from getting and contracting HIV,” explains Titone.
“Everybody benefits, whether it’s services for Medicaid or a private insurance plan. If they have to treat HIV, that costs those organizations a lot of money. So using these drug therapies to prevent HIV is really an important thing. And I think that was really what was a big point, that they tried to frame this to win bipartisan support, because it’s hard to sell spending money on something for prevention when it comes to the LGBTQ community, trying to win over Republicans.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver), an out lesbian, said that the bill to create a low-income drug assistance program was essential to ensuring that members of historically under-served populations living with HIV are able to access antiretrovirals that could prolong their lives.
“HIV impacts the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our state, often people of color who already face systemic health disparities and barriers to getting the care they need,” she said. “This law will reduce the stigma of HIV and save lives.”
Rep. Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo), another member of the LGBTQ caucus, praised the passage of the birth certificate bill, which no longer requires surgery for minors in order to have their vital documents match their true identity.
“Being true to one’s gender identity should never be limited by legal or health accessibility barriers,” Esgar said.
“This law will ensure that when it comes to official government documents, Colorado recognizes and respects the gender identity of everyone in our state.”
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