She isn’t sure when, but someday soon her family will get in the car and travel from Houston to northern Colorado, where they’ll start a new life.
She’s a fourth-generation Texan and all her close relatives live near her. She’s only been to Colorado a few times, and her family has zero friends here.
But her eldest child, a 17-year-old boy, is transgender, and in Texas that now makes her a child abuser in the eyes of her governor, whose recent dictate has led to at least nine investigations of parents like her. Lawyers have advised she keep her name out of the news, lest she tip-off authorities.
“I just want to be able to have a moment of peace, of just enjoying my kids and enjoying living,” she said between deep sighs during a break from packing boxes for the move. “I want a normal family that just exists, without wondering if we’re going to get a knock on the door.”
It’s likely to be a record year for anti-trans legislation in the US The Human Rights Campaign charts nearly 300 existing or upcoming bills in American statehouses, up from 147 last year and 79 in 2020. Most of these bills concern bathroom access, participation in youth sports and health care.
Some newer policies, however, go a step further: Texas leaders have sought to criminalize adults who help children in obtaining gender-affirming treatment. A judge on Friday halted child abuse investigations in these cases, but the long-term future of the policy is unclear. Violators of a bill advanced this month in Idaho could face life in prison, and Idaho lawmakers are also pursuing criminal penalties for people who travel out of state to obtain certain medical care for transgender children.
This is why the Texas mother and others around the country are looking to Colorado as a safe haven. While parts of the US are becoming less welcoming and supportive of trans kids and adults, Colorado has spent years moving in the opposite direction.
Last year Colorado became the first in the nation to require some health insurance plans to cover gender-affirming care. The legislation last year updated state anti-discrimination statutes to make them gender-neutral, and in 2019 banned conversion therapy. Colorado allows people to easily change a gender marker on state-issued identity documents, and there are no bathroom bills or youth sports bills targeting trans kids here.
The Houston woman is hardly alone. Another mother from the same part of Texas, Katie Laird, is plotting a similar move. Her family plans to come to Denver this summer for an indefinite period of time.
On the day Laird spoke to The Post, she said she’d heard of four other families planning to leave Texas, and that she knew two that already left.
Laird’s son, Noah, is 15 years old and transgender, and for years she’s been a regular at the Texas statehouse for hearings on bills affecting trans kids, among others. She didn’t think it would get to this point, but she knows now, she said, she was “horrifically wrong.”
Noah used to practice martial arts competitively, and no longer does. That’s a result of pandemic stress and anti-trans sports laws, Laird said. As of this month, the hospital where Noah received gender-affirming care can no longer provide it to him.
“Is this even a feasible place for us to ensure our child’s safety and access to medical care?” Laird wondered. “Is it even an option for us to stay?”
By email, Noah reflected on what he needs and what Texas can no longer provide: “I would want a safer space to be able to talk to people in and out of the community about the experiences of just being a trans kid. If adults and politicians actually listened to us, the kids, about how this is important and how gender-affirming treatments are literally lifesaving, then I think everyone could be a bit more comfortable with that. ”
When Laird wants to feel better about the state of things, she looks forward a few months and imagines her son clearing his head in the mountain air.
500 people on a waiting list
The service and advocacy organizations in Colorado that work with trans youth are getting more calls these days, and not just from Texas.
“Internal to the state, parents and families are contacting to make sure there are protections,” said Nadine Bridges, executive director of the nonprofit One Colorado. “Internally, it’s the fear of, could this happen to us? Can it? What do we need to do? How do I make sure I put my kid into a school that’s going to be accepting and that’s going to support them?
“If they’re out of state,” Bridges said, “they’re calling to see what the protections are here, and making sure that if they were to come to Colorado that they’d have protections for their kid.”
Another nonprofit director, Jessie Pocock of Inside Out Youth Services in Colorado Springs, said, “We will see people move here and we’ll see a need for accessing services.”
Pocock also said that for all of the state laws that make Colorado a relatively welcoming environment for trans youth, there’s plenty still to fight against. Advocates and parents just last month helped rally opposition to an anti-trans school resolution at Monument Academy in El Paso County.
That resolution, approved Feb. 10, described gender-inclusive policies relating to bathroom access and sports participation as violations of “natural law” and “moral truth.”
“You’re not going to face what you’re seeing (in Texas) in Colorado Springs,” Pocock said. “However, you may be facing different systems that might refuse to use pronouns, who could very well tell you,‘ I don’t actually accept your lifestyle ’when you’re trying to seek out access.
“People feel so emboldened in our community to really just preach the rhetoric of anti-LGBT sentiment. A lot of these people are in control. ”
There are also challenges in Colorado that have nothing to do with hate or stigma; even those who’d seek to help trans youth sometimes do not have the capacity. Pocock said she’s aware of a 500-person waiting list at a clinic that provides gender-affirming care. The clinic just opened a branch in Colorado Springs, but only for one day a week.
“They’re erasing trans people”
These long waits are primarily an issue of funding. Pocock said her organization spent almost 30 years begging for money and that the group could hardly operate at times.
It is not clear that the state is preparing in any specific way, through extra funding or otherwise, for the increased demand that anti-trans laws in other states is likely to create in Colorado.
A spokesman for the governor, Jared Polis, said in a statement, “Colorado will continue moving forward and stand for the rights of all Coloradans, and we welcome those who have denied basic rights in other states.”
State Rep. Brianna Titone of Arvada, the first and only out transgender state lawmaker in Colorado history, is well aware of the limits of the law to root out hate. She has been often misgendered on the floor of the State House of Representatives and was the target of an anti-trans election-season ad campaign by a former state lawmaker who, on a robocall to voters, suggested Titone is a danger to “your wives and daughters. ”
Of this national moment, Titone said, “It’s easy to pick on a small group of people who are poorly understood.”
“They’re erasing trans people in every way that they can. In my mind, the next step – and I hate to say it – would be rounding people up. That’s what a lot of people are thinking right now when these things happen. If you’re saying, ‘We’re erasing you,’ and we don’t want you to be the way you are, ‘that’s really scary. “
Back in Texas, the Houston mother says she doesn’t expect Colorado to solve every challenge imposed on her family as a result of her son’s gender. After all, you can’t legislate stigma, ignorance or misunderstanding. But she knows, at least, that nothing about her son’s identity is illegal here.
“I don’t need everybody to think the way we do, but I need to live somewhere where people will listen to reason, and don’t think a solution is to take my children away from me,” she said, then returned to packing.