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Backers of anti-LGBTQ measures battle for access to Colorado’s 2024 ballot


Backers of anti-LGBTQ measures battle for access to Colorado’s 2024 ballot

Apr 04, 2024 | 6:01 pm ET
By Chase Woodruff
Backers of anti-LGBTQ measures battle for access to Colorado’s 2024 ballot
A view inside a downtown Denver polling location during the presidential primaries on Super Tuesday, March 5, 2024. (Kevin Mohatt for Colorado Newsline)

A panel of Colorado officials this week took up a slate of proposed ballot measures filed by a prominent anti-LGBTQ activist whose campaign against what she has called the “indoctrination” of children by “predators” at “dangerous government schools” has been promoted by the far-right Christian nationalist movement.

The four proposed initiatives were filed by Erin Lee, who since 2022 has made a string of appearances in conservative media crusading against what she claims her daughter experienced while attending an after-school Genders and Sexualities Alliance club at a Fort Collins middle school the previous year.

The most sweeping of the proposed changes is a measure that would enshrine a broad declaration of parental rights in the Colorado Constitution. If approved, the Constitution’s section on “inalienable rights” would include the provision: “Parents have certain natural, essential and inalienable rights, including exercising sole discretion concerning the wellbeing of their child up until the child emancipation.”

But along with other versions of a “parental rights” measure filed in recent months, that proposed amendment was rejected on Wednesday by the state’s Initiative Title Setting Review Board, a three-member panel consisting of designees of the Colorado secretary of state, attorney general and the legislative branch. The Title Board is tasked with determining whether a proposed initiative meets a requirement that measures address only a single subject, and whether it can be given a clear “title,” a one-sentence description explaining its changes to voters.

“What impact this would have on a number of different rights, like children’s rights, is really unclear,” said Title Board chair Theresa Conley. “I don’t understand how this is changing the status quo. What you’re saying yes or no to is still unclear to me.”

Lee, her husband and two other parents sued the Poudre School District in federal court last year, alleging that her daughter’s experience with the GSA club, which “introduced concepts of gender fluidity and various types of sexual attraction,” violated their constitutional rights as parents. Their characterization of some of the club’s discussions and materials has been disputed.

Other pending initiatives proposed by Lee include a measure that would require Colorado public schools to notify parents when their child shows signs of “experiencing gender incongruence” at school, and another that would codify a parent’s “legal right to review their child’s school records” and school curricula. Both were approved by the Title Board, but a fourth measure, which outlined a set of restrictions on medical and mental health care providers from treating or counseling a child without express parental consent, was found to violate the single subject rule and denied a title.

I am very, very concerned if something like this were to be proposed to the public, that this could be very damaging, and could hurt a lot of our transgender youth.

– Jenna Clinchard, whose daughter began socially transitioning when she was 9

Under the banner of “parental rights,” conservative groups across the country have advanced a wide swath of policies targeting LGBTQ recognition and other equity measures in schools in recent years, notably including Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law in 2022. Lee’s curriculum transparency measure resembles Republican-sponsored legislation rejected in Colorado in 2022 but adopted in at least a dozen GOP-controlled states.

Lee’s lawsuit against the Poudre School District was dismissed by a judge in December, though she and her fellow plaintiffs have since sought to submit an amended complaint. The suit was backed by the America First Policy Institute, founded by former top officials and close allies of former President Donald Trump.

Lee has appeared on shows hosted by the Truth and Liberty Coalition, a nonprofit founded by far-right preacher Andrew Wommack of Woodland Park. Wommack’s views are frequently characterized as belonging to the dominionist movement, which seeks to place government under control of the Christian church and its interpretation of biblical law.

To qualify for the November 2024 ballot, statutory initiatives must earn signatures from at least 124,238 registered voters, and then need a simple majority to pass. Proponents seeking to amend the state Constitution, meanwhile, must collect signatures from at least 2% of registered voters in each of Colorado’s 35 state Senate districts, and the measure must be approved by at least 55% of voters.

Two other ballot measures targeting transgender Coloradans were previously rejected by the Title Board this year. One would prohibit transgender athletes from competing in “a sport or athletic event designated as being for females, women or girls.” The other proposes a sweeping ban on medical procedures and hormone treatments for transgender people under the age of 18.

In re-hearings on Wednesday, the Title Board upheld its previous rulings and determined that both measures were too broad to meet requirements for a single subject and clear title. The board’s decisions can be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, and at least two appeals over anti-transgender initiatives have already been filed there.

Greg Lopez, who was selected last week by a Republican Party special convention to run as a “placeholder” candidate in Colorado’s 4th Congressional District, appeared before the Title Board on Wednesday in support of the initiatives.

“We will find out from the Colorado Supreme Court,” Lopez told board members. “We just hope that we can move forward with this.”

Conley read written comments in opposition to the transgender care ban from a representative of the Colorado chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The board also heard comments from Jenna Clinchard, who said her daughter Jude, who turned 18 this year, began socially transitioning when she was 9.

“Through Jude’s whole transition we have followed (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) standards, which is scientific, and we have felt safe through her whole transition,” Clinchard said. “I am very, very concerned if something like this were to be proposed to the public, that this could be very damaging, and could hurt a lot of our transgender youth.”