Groups claim Colorado legislators limited free speech during testimony

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Editorial note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified a representative who spoke during the Jan. 30 House Judiciary Committee meeting. This misidentification is also present in the lawsuit.

DENVER (KDVR) — An already heated discussion surrounding a bill known as “Tiara’s Law” has turned into a legal battle after a nonprofit, association and two individuals filed a federal lawsuit against five Colorado lawmakers.

HB24-1071, officially called “Name Change to Conform with Gender Identity,” would change current state law to allow for someone with a felony conviction who is attempting to change their name to use gender identity as a good cause to do so. The bill would also authorize the court to require such a petitioner to give a public notice of their name change.

Colorado bill to track gun and ammo purchases heads to Polis’ desk

The bill’s nickname is inspired by a transgender woman with a felony history requesting to change her name to Tiara.

This bill has garnered tremendous emotional debate, and at times tears, on the Colorado House floor during testimony.

But now, a lawsuit argues that legislators censored free speech during testimony about the bill.

Who filed this lawsuit, and who is it against?

The complaint, which was filed on April 4 in the U.S. District Court of Colorado, names the group filing the lawsuit as:

  • Gays Against Groomers, a nonprofit self-described as consisting of gays and others “who oppose the sexualization, indoctrination and medicalization of children under the guise of ‘LGBTQIA+'”

  • The Rocky Mountain Women’s Network, which describes itself as an unincorporated association with a mission “to advocate for and protect women’s and girl’s sex-based rights.”

  • Rich Guggenheim, who is the head of the Gays Against Groomers’ Colorado Chapter

  • Christina Goeke, a co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Women’s Network and a competitive weightlifter.

Rocky Mountain Women’s Network, Guggenheim and Goeke all claim to reject “transgender ideology, including the concepts of misgendering and deadnaming,” according to the lawsuit.

It is filed against:

  • Sen. Julie Gonzales, the Majority Whip and a Democrat representing portions of Denver County, in addition to the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee

  • Sen. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Democrat representing portions of Adams and Arapahoe Counties

  • Rep. Lorena Garcia, a Democrat representing portions of Adams and Jefferson Counties

  • Rep. Mike Weissman, a Democrat representing portions of Adams and Arapahoe Counties and the House Judiciary Committee Chairman

  • Rep. Leslie Herod, a Democrat representing portions of Denver County

Michaelson Jenet and Garcia are both primary sponsors of the bill.

Groups criticize language to discuss trans community

The legal complaint notes that there is a “profound” disagreement between Americans about transgender people’s “ideology,” which others might characterize as “trans rights.” It also states that there is “nothing wrong with Americans, or their elected representatives, debating trans ideology.”

The lawsuit goes on to argue that the defendants are “Colorado Legislators and proponents of transgender ideology” and “are abusing their authority to put a thumb on the scale of the public’s debate about transgenderism.” The lawsuit claims that critics were made to present their views during public testimony without misgendering or deadnaming any individuals. “Deadnaming” refers to addressing someone by a name they no longer go by.

Griswold, House Republicans speak after impeachment resolution gets hearing

The lawsuit says the legislators were “(O)therwise requiring citizens to express fealty to transgender ideology under the guise of ‘civility’ or ‘decorum.’ And they have elevated favored transgender exemplars, including legislative namesakes, above criticism. For those citizens who do not submit, (the legislators) silence their speech, even going so far as to erase it from the public record.”

According to reports of initial bill testimony in early March, the testimony on the bill was frequently interrupted by negotiations on what could and couldn’t be said in the House well.

“Thank you for helping them if they want to do criminal activities, thank you for helping them cloak their identity,” said Republican Rep. Richard Holtorf told the Associated Press on March 1.

“If this was really about saying, ‘People with felonies should not be able to change their names,’ and not just one group of people, we would’ve heard that any woman who’s committed a felony is trying to hide when she wants to get married,” said Rep. Jennifer Bacon, Democrats’ assistant House majority leader fired back in the AP article.

Rules were established before testimony began

The lawsuit notes that the House’s administrative rules on hearings prohibit booing, cheering and other outbursts, but also a person can be removed from the House chamber if they are “impeding, disrupting, or hindering a committee meeting or who endangers any member, officer, or employee of the General Assembly or any member of the public.”

The Senate’s rules are the same.

Harm reduction, overdose prevention bills advance at Colorado Capitol

The lawsuit argues that Goeke and Guggenheim think that “adherence to a transgender person’s pronoun preferences, assumed gender, or assumed name to be a form of lying.”

However, during the House Judiciary Committee’s discussion about “Tiara’s Law,” Rep. Garcia recommended that those signed up to testify do so in a manner that is “not disparaging other members or our community or other witnesses,” because “this room is one where people should be able to come, share their stories, be who they are, without fear of being attacked, without fear of being disparaged.”

These comments were adopted as rules for the forum by Weissman, the House Judiciary Committee Chair.

According to the lawsuit, Guggenheim heard the rules and left his place in line because he “could not deliver his views and the views of his group if he could not use language he was certain would be deemed ‘derogatory’ about the bill’s namesake, or use language denying the validity of trans ideology.”

Goeke waited in line for her testimony, according to the lawsuit. However, she claims she “did not get all the way through her presentation before being repeatedly interrupted by (Weissman) for violating (the legislators’) customs, practices, or policies against deadnaming, misgendering, or using allegedly ‘derogatory’ or ‘disparaging’ language about another person.”

Elijah McClain’s mother testifies at Capitol as prone restraint bill passes committee

According to the lawsuit, Goeke told legislators during her testimony that “misgendering means nothing, it means nothing. I correctly sex everybody.”

The lawsuit notes that another public testimony session was held on March 27, in which Goeke and Guggenheim both testified. Goeke argues in the lawsuit that she was interrupted by the chair of the committee, and noted that “significant portions” of her “speech were erased from the official audio record.”

Guggenheim also spoke in opposition to the bill. He referenced the bill’s namesake with male pronouns, in addition to several notable transgender icons from the Stonewall riot, and was gaveled by the committee chair for the misgendering.

The group is seeking an injunction against the named legislators to prevent them from enforcing restrictions on speakers at committee hearings, prevent requirements that speakers “express support for trans ideology by using preferred pronouns or non-legal names,” prevent discrimination based on viewpoint, and other censorship matters relating to the lawsuit.

FOX31 has reached out to the defendants in this legal battle and will update this story if information is provided. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to FOX31 Denver.