Apparently many Colorado Republicans have decided that the way to recover from getting destroyed in the last elections is to double down on bigotry against LGBTQ people. That’s gonna work great in a state that by a margin of 58.5% to 39.2% reelected Jared Polis, our first gay governor and a happily married family man, over Heidi Ganahl.
When, in early March, Democrats considered a short resolution promoting the Equal Rights Amendment, Rep. Scott Bottoms took the opportunity to fight the culture war against transgender people, suggesting in a proposed amendment that, among other things, a transgender woman using a woman’s restroom constitutes or invites “sexual harassment.” Never mind that such paranoia has encouraged actual harassment not only of transgender women but of biological (“cis”) women whom bigots in their blind rage sometimes mistake for transgender women.
And never mind that Bottoms continuously demeans and degrades his own legislative colleague Brianna Titone, who happens to be a transgender woman. Although I often disagree with Titone’s policies (while praising some of her bills), I recognize her as among the hardest working, most thoughtful members of the legislature. She deserves better than Bottoms’ insults.
In introducing his amendment, Bottoms said, “There is such a thing as XX and XY [chromosomes]. And no matter how much you lie to yourself and change it, and frame it in any way whatsoever, there is XX and XY.” So Bottoms in essence said that Titone’s very existence, and the claimed gender identity of every transgender person, is a lie.
But Bottoms is the liar. No one claims that identifying as transgender somehow changes your chromosomes or your genitals. He’s attacking a (uh) straw man. Everyone knows that a transgender woman is different in some ways, physiologically, from someone born biologically a woman. But expressed gender does not reduce to biological sex. As a friend put the point, “Sex is what’s between the legs; gender is what’s between the ears.” That’s not totally precise but it’s a good first approximation.
Titone is, as far as I’m aware, the only member in the history of the state legislature compelled to stand up on the floor and defend her very existence in the face of bigoted colleagues who cast her as a fraud.
Yet stand she did. With grace and resolve, Titone answered Bottoms: “Whether you believe me, or people like me, should exist—I do exist. And I am your equal in this chamber. I accomplished the same thing you did to be here, and I proudly represent all of my constituents in the course of my work in this chamber.”
I hear you, Titone. Other decent people around Colorado hear you.
Scott Bottoms did not hear her. In late March, as reported by Heidi Beedle (also a transgender woman and a progressive advocacy journalist), Bottoms appeared on a podcast on which he claimed that transgender people are “living . . . a weird, warped, lie.”
The host of the show claimed that “two things” cause someone to become transgender: mental illness and “grooming at a very young age.” This language about “grooming” intentionally, and despicably, conflates talking with kids about transgender issues with “grooming” them for sexual abuse.
Obviously, Bottoms called out the host for being a hateful bigot. Ha! No. Bottoms agreed with the host but added some additional causes. He said, “Why people get into the LGBT community, not just transgender, but the entire community is abuse.” He continued, “They’ve been abused and they’re broken and they’re hurting. . . . They run straight to the very essence of how they were abused.”
Bottoms, also a pastor at a Colorado Springs church, described a fourth possible cause of becoming an LGBTQ person: “I would throw in your spiritual stuff that Satan does to them.”
So, those are your options, according to Bottoms. Every gay, lesbian, transgender, or other LGBTQ person you’ve ever met or heard of, including the governor of Colorado and a sitting state legislator, got that way because of mental illness, “grooming,” abuse, or Satan. In this view, there is simply no such thing as an authentic or psychologically (or spiritually) healthy LGBTQ person.
But Bottoms assures us, “I don’t hate transgender or gay or any of the categories.” Indeed, he says, his church even helped to arm LGBTQ people and train them to use guns. “They have the right to defend themselves,” he said. And good for him on that score! But the selves they are defending, Bottoms implies, are corrupt, and his church most wants to “help” LGBTQ people get “whole”—i.e., not be gay or transgender anymore.
Bottoms’s stance is “exclusionary” not in the sense that he wants to get rid of LGBTQ people, but in the sense that he wants no one to be LGBTQ. He holds that there is something fundamentally wrong—Satanic, even—with LGBTQ people. He is, in short, a bigot.
Jon Caldara piles on
We get it: Jon Caldara holds that gender reduces to biological sex and so he refuses to recognize anyone as transgender. He’s made this point publicly now many times. He last blared these views in an April 19 op-ed for Complete Colorado, a piece first published by the Gazette.
Caldara claims that people upset with Budweiser for hiring a transgender spokesperson aren’t really angry about that, contrary to appearances. Instead, they’re “angry about the coerced speech and the forced lying they must do to avoid being shamed and banished from their communities. They are upset about being fired from their jobs, kicked out of colleges and labeled haters for speaking the simple truth.”
Let’s leave aside the fact that Caldara first pitched this case in one of the largest publications in Colorado as the well-paid head of one of the most prominent think tanks in the state (the Independence Institute, which publishes Complete Colorado). Caldara’s column really was “cancelled” by the Denver Post in 2020 over Caldara’s insistence that there is no such thing as transgender people, only people who dishonestly claim to be transgender but who really are “a man in a dress” or the equivalent. That is the alleged “simple truth” of which Caldara speaks. (I reviewed all of this elsewhere.)
You know what? Caldara is right about some of the consequences. If you go to work and intentionally “misgender” and “deadname” your transgender coworker, you’re probably going to be fired. As you should be fired. Similarly, if you go to work and call your black coworker the “n-word,” your Jewish coworker the “k-word,” or your Muslim coworker a “raghead,” you’re going to be fired, and you should be fired. You don’t have the right to be a bigoted jerk to your coworkers.
The funny thing is that Caldara has said publicly that it’s perfectly fine to “cancel” people in certain contexts for being bigoted jerks. I guess he doesn’t remember saying this, but he and I did spend an hour discussing such issues on Caldara’s show, Devil’s Advocate (don’t worry, Bottoms; there was no real devil there).
Here’s what I asked Caldara, starting at the 33:30 minute mark: “If you have Brianna Titone, who is a state representative, who is a transgender woman, into the Independence Institute to present some bill or whatever, and you have another guest who’s heckling her, and saying, ‘you’re a man . . . you’re delusional,’ or whatever, or ‘you’re a groomer,’ you better ask that person to leave.”
Caldara replied, “Of course I would ask that person to leave, because that would be inappropriate.” In other words, Caldara would “cancel” and shame the person and banish the person from the event. As he should!
Caldara obviously doesn’t really believe what he’s selling in his recent op-ed, at least when it comes to actual people rather than abstractions. To take another example, a January news article in Complete Colorado—which, again, is published by the organization that Caldara runs—properly refers to Titone as “she.”
Why is Caldara being so politically correct? Why is he allowing lies (as he calls them) to be published in Complete Colorado? The obvious answer is that it is not a lie to refer to a transgender woman as “she.” It’s basic respect. Because gender does not reduce to biological sex. And Caldara knows that if he allowed his organization to publish bigoted language against a particular person, his organization would lose credibility, and justly so. This isn’t about fear of “cancel culture.” It’s about basic decency.
Most of us (Scott Bottoms excepted) have come to view gay people as a normal part of our society and homosexuality as perfectly fine. More people continue to have trouble accepting transgender people. Bottoms claims there’s something inherently wrong with transgender people. Caldara along with Bottoms claims that transgender identity is a lie. Their stances are not going to age well, and I encourage them to contemplate what the historical footnotes about them will say.
True, there are some complex issues involving such matters as transgender people in certain sports, age of consent for gender-affirming medical treatments, and potential “social contagion” at play in some young people identifying as transgender (see Carol Tavris’s critical take). Some people use such complexities as a pretext to demonize transgender people. That is the “trans exclusionary” approach. The alternative is to recognize, even through the difficult discussions, that transgender people deserve our respect and acceptance. Transgender Coloradans are Coloradans.
Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.
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