Bill would bar trans women athletes from women’s school teams in Colorado
Republican-backed legislation joins growing number of anti-trans youth bills across the country
A view of the Colorado House on May 9, 2022. (Pema Baldwin for Colorado Newsline)
A bill that would ban transgender student athletes from participating in women’s sports is scheduled for a Monday hearing at the Colorado Legislature.
House Bill 23-1098, the Women’s Rights in Athletics bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Byron Pelton of Sterling and Republican Reps. Lisa Frizell of Castle Rock and Brandi Bradley of Littleton, would require athletes to participate on teams according to their sex as assigned at birth, not their self-identified gender. Any intercollegiate, interscholastic, intramural or club athletic team would be required to designate teams as either male, female or coeducational.
Republicans in the Legislature introduced similar legislation in 2020, where it failed in committee hearings.
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If the legislation passes, transgender women would be unable to play on women’s sports teams, and if they wanted to continue to play their desired sport they would have to play with a men’s sports team.
The bill would also prohibit government entities from investigating any complaints or taking any legal action related to the bill against school districts, sports organizations or governing board members.
LGBTQ advocacy organizations like One Colorado strongly oppose the bill, saying it would deeply harm trans students and take away opportunities for them to participate and learn life-long skills through team sports.
“This bill is not about protecting youth or setting fair playing ground for women to participate in sports,” said Gillian Ford, communications director for One Colorado in a statement. “We are appalled by any effort to harm our community instead of working to ensure all Coloradans are protected and can thrive.”
The bill reflects a larger trend among state lawmakers across the country introducing anti-trans legislation. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 264 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in 33 states since November. Of those bills, 123 are specifically targeting schools and education.
Legislation targeting transgender people has increasingly targeted trans youth, not only when it comes to sports, but also when trans youth are seeking access to gender-affirming health care. As a result of increasing anti-trans legislation, nearly 85% of trans and nonbinary youth have said their mental health has been negatively affected.
With Democrats holding a supermajority in the Colorado House of Representatives and a majority in the Senate, the proposal is extremely unlikely to pass. And some legal experts argue that the bill does not hold up in a legal sense.
“In Colorado, we have constitutional rights to equality of the genders,” said Paula Greisen, a Colorado attorney who specializes in LGBTQ rights and protections at Greisen Medlock. “We have very strong anti-discrimination laws in the state and Colorado courts have continued to reaffirm that they will protect these fundamental rights.”
Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws guarantee equal access to public accommodations, housing and employment regardless of disability, race, color, sex and sexual orientation, including transgender identity. These laws extend to Colorado schools, where the House bill would bar certain students from sports participation.
What we’ve seen in the past couple of years is an attempt to conflate religious philosophy with politics ... I certainly believe in religious freedom, but there is an effort to inject religious theory into our society and laws.
– Paula Greisen, a lawyer who specializes in LGBTQ rights
Greisen added that efforts across the country to condemn and vilify transgender people are part of a years-long campaign by conservative organizations to use the law to instill traditional values.
“What we’ve seen in the past couple of years is an attempt to conflate religious philosophy with politics,” Greisen said. “I certainly believe in religious freedom, but there is an effort to inject religious theory into our society and laws.”
Frizell and Bradley have not pointed to a specific instance in Colorado that led to the creation of the bill, but they have claimed in public comments that it is “proactive” and that biological differences provide trans athletes an advantage over their cisgender counterparts.
A spokesperson for the Colorado High School Activities Association, an organization that oversees high school sports activities, said it was too early to comment on the bill and whether it had the potential to affect student athletes in the state.
“The bill is very much in infancy and because of that, we would prefer to wait and see if and/or how it has progressed further toward actualization before commentating on any potential impact it may or may not have,” said Brad Chochi, director of digital media for CHSAA.
On the other side of the aisle, state Democrats have introduced legislation requiring public buildings constructed after Jan. 1, 2024, and existing buildings with restroom renovations costing $10,000 and owned at least partly by the state, county or local municipality to include at least one non-gendered restroom. In addition, the bill would require at least one safe, sanitary and convenient baby diaper changing station that is accessible to the public on each floor where there is a public restroom.
Sponsored by Democratic Reps. Karen McCormick of Longmont and Stephanie Vigil of Colorado Springs and Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis of Longmont, the legislation, House Bill 23-1057, is likely to pass committee hearings.
Both bills will be reviewed by the House State, Civic, Military & Veteran Affairs Committee on Monday.
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