Transgender rights bill withstands Republicans’ filibuster-style tactics

Legislation clarifies protections for gender identity and expression

Majority Leader Daneya Esgar
House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, a Democrat from Pueblo, speaks on the House floor Feb. 16, 2021. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

Republicans are far outnumbered in the Colorado House, but that hasn’t stopped them from using delay tactics to stand their ground on ideological principles, even during a pandemic.

On several of the session’s most controversial Democratic priorities — including a bill that would require people to lock up guns when not using them, a bill that would add a media literacy curriculum, and now a bill aimed at protecting transgender people from discrimination — Republican lawmakers have delayed a vote for hours.

They’ve made long, meandering speeches and brought forward amendment after amendment only to have them predictably rejected by Democrats in the majority. These tactics parallel the “filibuster” used by the party in the minority in the U.S. Senate to delay a bill by essentially talking it to death, or threatening to talk it to death.

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The latest legislation to inspire such fierce opposition among GOP state lawmakers is House Bill 21-1108, which would amend the definition of “sexual orientation” in Colorado law to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on someone’s gender expression or gender identity. It’s sponsored by House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, a Pueblo Democrat.

HB-1108 would clarify that the state’s existing protections for lesbian, gay and bisexual people also apply to discrimination against transgender people. These protections extend to many areas of life, including employment, housing, health care, education and more.

The bill updates state law to reflect how the courts have already interpreted Colorado’s protections based on sexual orientation, Esgar said on the House floor.

“We are modernizing the law to codify existing practice,” she said.

Still, Republican Rep. Tonya Van Beber of Weld County spoke at length about the case of a Shawnee State University professor who refused to address a transgender student by her preferred pronouns. She asked for her colleagues to support an amendment that would provide protections for people who wished to exercise their constitutional right to free speech in how they referred to transgender people — as did the professor, Van Beber argued.

The amendment would help constituents “understand that while we all need to have our sensitivities and our love for one another — our acceptance of one another — we need not be in fear for our speech, which is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” said Rep. Mark Baisley, a Roxborough Park Republican.

After that amendment failed, several Republican legislators, including Reps. Shane Sandridge of Colorado Springs and Janice Rich of Grand Junction, spoke at length in defense of Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker being sued by a transgender woman after Phillips refused to make her a cake celebrating her transition.

Democrats expressed their disgust on social media.

“Republicans are filibustering the Gender Identity Expression Anti-Discrimination bill on the Trans Day of Visibility,” Rep. Lindsey Daugherty, a Democrat from Arvada, wrote. The Transgender Day of Visibility is observed annually on March 31 and is an opportunity to recognize transgender people.

Rep. Brianna Titone, an Arvada Democrat who is the General Assembly’s first transgender lawmaker, asked her colleagues for respect.

“No person in this chamber knows what it’s like to be transgender or nonbinary,” Titone said.

“This bill puts into law what we already do,” she continued. “I stand before you today asking for respect. … We’re talking about me. I’m your colleague.”

In the end, HB-1108 was approved on second reading in the House and is set for a final third-reading vote April 1, before it heads to the Senate for consideration. There, Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat, will sponsor the legislation.

“After hours of inflammatory and prejudicious ‘debate’ from my GOP colleagues, the House has PASSED my bill to make straightforward changes to our laws to prevent the discrimination of trans Coloradans,” Esgar wrote on Twitter. “We won’t let bigotry win.”

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