Gov. Jared Polis signed a pair of bills expanding state protections to the LGBTQ community into law on Friday, the eve of Pride Month.
The bills included a ban on psychotherapy that seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of minors, often called “conversion therapy,” and a change to state law that makes it easier for transgender residents to update gender markers on their birth certificates.
Polis called it an exciting day for Colorado.
“Our state should be a place where everyone can be safe and proud of who they are and contribute from their diverse perspectives to make our state even better,” Polis said.
Colorado becomes the 18th U.S. state — and the fourth this year, in addition to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico — to ban so-called conversion therapy, which has long been denounced by psychology's governing bodies and has been linked to increased risk of suicide, depression and drug use among teens.
Polis, a Democrat, denounced what he called the "tortuous practice" before signing the bill.
Republicans who controlled the state Senate had blocked earlier attempts to ban the therapy. But Democrats took over both chambers of the Legislature last November and retained the governor's seat. This year's bill passed with bipartisan support.
"We sat there in tears, year after year, hearing testimony about harm inflicted on children,” said Democratic Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a bill sponsor. "No more sobbing children!" she declared.
Advocacy group One Colorado has estimated that several dozen licensed, unlicensed, secular and religious practitioners in Colorado engaged in conversion therapy. In the past, the Colorado Springs-based Christian ministry Focus on the Family fought against conversion therapy bans.
Kathy Boyer attended the ceremony with her son, Caylan. Both said they testified in support of the conversion therapy ban earlier this year.
Boyer said she would never try to put her son through the practice.
“This is for the other kids in Colorado who shouldn’t be subjected to try to change who they are,” she said. “They don’t need to be changed.”
Maine also banned conversation therapy for minors earlier this week. Massachusetts and New York did the same earlier this year.
Polis also signed a bill making it much easier for transgender Coloradans to update the gender on their birth certificates, identification documents and driver's licenses.
Citizens can choose M, F or X in requesting new identity documents without, as previously required, seeking a court order, a doctor's note or providing proof of surgery. People who don't identify as strictly male or female can choose "X."
The law also eliminates required publication of legal notices for name changes.
Lawmakers named the measure Jude's Law after a teenage transgender girl testified repeatedly in favor of it. Jude — whose family has requested her last name be withheld to respect her privacy— attended the ceremony and was given a bill signing pen by Polis.
KUNC has previously reported on the dangers transgender Coloradans face when their identifying documents don’t match their gender identity.
Colorado’s bill signing event capped a five-year legislative effort to pass a ban. It was a notable achievement for a state that, in 1992, adopted an amendment to ban anti-discrimination laws protecting gay people. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturned the amendment.
One Colorado Executive Director Daniel Ramos said it was an important day for Colorado’s LGBTQ community, but he added that recent research conducted by his staff showed an alarming trend.
“We’re finding that people are experiencing more discrimination on the street, in their schools, at their workplace and even in houses of worship,” Ramos said. “When the lived experienced of LGBTQ folks in our state is worsening, we know there’s more work we need to do.”
“We know that laws can only do so much,” he added.