‘We see you’: The youth perspective on two Colorado gender identity bills

Youth Advisory Council legislation concerns preferred name usage, gender-affirming care access

By: - November 1, 2023 4:00 am

Members of the Colorado Youth Advisory Council, including Meghan Taylor, center, listen during an Oct. 25, 2023, hearing at the Colorado Capitol in Denver. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)

When Mason Evans was 15 years old, he decided to seek gender-affirming care in the form of testosterone hormone therapy. He had cut his hair and “come to terms with himself,” he said, but he knew medical intervention was necessary for him to feel comfortable in his body.

His primary doctor told him she was not well-versed in that type of care, and she sent him to another provider, but he told Evans essentially the same thing.

“He said he could talk me through the steps of getting gender-affirming care, but couldn’t really treat me. He was under the impression that it was a much more specialized care,” Evans told Colorado Newsline.

That doctor told Evans, who lives in Pueblo, to go to the TRUE Center for Gender Diversity at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora, which specifically serves gender-diverse youth. The wait time for treatment, however, was around 18 months — a significant amount of time for a transgender teenager trying to align their body with their identity.


Evans finally got the care he needed when he turned 18, after three years of struggling with providers.

“It was especially difficult to know that it was so close, but so far out of my reach. This care is something that can be administered so quickly,” he said. “You need a blood test and a psych evaluation. My doctor didn’t know how to care for me, and that being the cause for me not receiving care that I needed for three years was detrimental to my mental health.”

Now, Evans, 18, is working to improve the accessibility of gender-affirming care in Colorado, especially for youth. As a member of the Colorado Youth Advisory Council, Evans put forward a bill to study the landscape of gender-affirming care in the state, including the number of patients seeking treatment, where it is available, the availability of insurance to cover care, the level of knowledge among providers and reasons for barriers.

The bill is one of three that the COYAC committee voted to advance to the state Legislative Council last week, for likely introduction during the upcoming session of the Colorado Legislature. COYAC is made up of students ages 14 to 19 who research policy ideas and present youth-centered bills to a legislative interim committee. Lawmakers on the committee can then recommend up to three of those bills to move forward in the lawmaking process.

Two of the three bills approved this year concern gender identity.

“This says that young people care about being empowered. They care about being affirmed,” said Emmett Blaney, the Rocky Mountain policy coordinator for the political advocacy group Young Invincibles. “Us young people, we’ve been saying this from Day One. There’s a lot of research that shows that social support is the most impactful thing to reducing suicide rates.”

Legislators aren’t in schools, seeing kids get misgendered and get deadnamed, so they won’t understand the impact it has on those children.

– Emmett Blaney, of Young Invincibles

The focus on gender identity in COYAC’s bills shows members’ passion about issues in their communities and their proximity to issues that adults might not consider, Evans said.

“Legislators aren’t in schools, seeing kids get misgendered and get deadnamed, so they won’t understand the impact it has on those children. But we see it every day and we experience it,” he said. “We look at youth across Colorado and just think ‘We see you. We care.’”

Deadnaming is when someone calls a transgender person by their previous name.

The study in Evans’ bill would be conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment either internally or through a contractor, and it would include recommendations. Evans hopes that a comprehensive look at gender-affirming care in the state will inform future policies to improve access, perhaps through a grant program for providers to train on how to administer care, which was the original idea for the bill.

While neighboring states like Utah have restricted gender-affirming care for minors, Colorado bolstered protections for providers and out-of-state patients this year. That makes the state a destination for patients from around the country, but experts worry about a lack of training statewide, especially in rural areas.

A view inside the dome at the Colorado Capitol, April 19, 2023. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

Students who cannot come out at home

COYAC also approved a bill that would create a system for students to have a non-legal name change in schools. It would require public schools to use a student’s preferred name while on campus and on rosters, identification cards and other unofficial records requested by the student, and deem a school’s refusal to do so as a form of discrimination.

Meghan Taylor, a Manitou Springs teenager, said the bill is crucial for transgender students, as using a preferred name can vastly improve mental health and reduce suicidal ideation.

As other states limit transgender rights, she sees an opportunity for Colorado to grow. Most school districts already have a preferred name guideline, but putting it in statute makes it enforceable and underlines it as a priority.

“With all of the (anti-trans) legislation and rhetoric being spread across the nation, it can be really hurtful, I know, to be an LGBTQ person and feel like you’re not a person and you’re not valid,” Taylor, who considers herself an ally of the community, told Newsline. “I think it’s important that as Colorado, we maintain our stature as a state that is safe for LGBTQ students and adults alike.”

Students 12 and older would not need to tell their parents they are going by a different name at school, which is in line with Colorado laws on when a child can access mental health care without parental consent. Taylor said that some students live in a household where their parents or caretakers don’t accept their gender identity, and school is the safe place for them to socially transition and live authentically.

“This is for the student who is out at home and whose parents are more than happy to call them by their chosen name and pronouns, but it’s also for the student who cannot come out at home because they’re fearful for what their parents will say, if their parents have said violent or hateful things towards transgender or LGBTQ people in the past,” she said. “Giving students a place like the school where they can live as themselves and be validated as themselves, I think is really important.”

Parents ‘kept in the dark’

Two state lawmakers said during the COYAC meeting last week that non-legal name changes without requiring parental notification amounts to lying and deceit towards parents.

“Do you think it’s a good example to set to keep things like this from parents?” Sen. Janice Rich, a Republican from Grand Junction, asked Taylor.

Taylor responded that she believes it is a good example, because she believes the bill will prevent youth suicide. Taylor shared during the committee meeting that when she was younger, a friend became suicidal when they couldn’t go by their preferred name.

“If it is for a matter of their own safety, then that is a ‘lie’ (to parents) that I can greatly get behind, because I believe in the safety of transgender youth,” Taylor said.

Rep. Ron Weinberg, a Loveland Republican, and parents who testified at the meeting also criticized the parental notification aspects of the bill.

“Parents like me are kept in the dark and bullied into going along with (gender) transition even when we know it’s not right for our children,” parent Erin Lee said. “Please don’t perpetuate this bullying of teachers and parents to do what they know is wrong for some children. This kind of forced speech and forced transition of children will harm many.”

The bill would not require students to change their name at school.

Lee sued the Poudre School District earlier this year after her daughter allegedly went to a school Gender and Sexuality Alliance club meeting, where a speaker spoke about transgenderism and told students to not tell their parents.

Taylor said she did not speak with any parent groups when forming her bill.

“I was glad to have people come up and speak, even if it was not in favor of the bill. When you receive criticism like that, you’re forced to look more deeply into the work that you do,” she said.

COYAC also voted favorably for a bill that would offer student loan relief for school psychologists who commit to working in the state for at least three years, a way to increase the number of licensed psychologists for youth. That bill will be sponsored by Weinberg, Democratic Rep. Stephanie Vigil, Democratic Sen. Janice Marchman and Democratic Sen. Faith Winter.

If the Legislative Council approves the three bills when it meets on Nov. 15, they will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January. The non-legal name change and gender-affirming care study bill will be sponsored by Vigil, Marchman and Winter.


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Sara Wilson
Sara Wilson

Sara Wilson covers state government, Colorado's congressional delegation, energy and other stories for Newsline. She formerly was a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain, where she covered politics and government in southern Colorado.