A co-worker and I, let’s call him “Michael,” drove up to Denver on January 30 to testify against HB19-1032, a bill “Concerning Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education.” Not all schools in Colorado teach sexual education, but this bill mandates districts that do so must include teaching about “sexual orientation and gender identity.”
HB19-1032 also funds a grant program for sex education, with distribution of money coordinated by an “oversight entity.” The bill adds eight new members to the entity; at least seven people in the group must be “members of groups of people who have been or might be discriminated against.” Nothing in the bill suggests how such “discriminated against” groups would be determined.
As Michael and I arrived at the Capitol, we saw a long line of folks waiting to enter the building. At first I wondered if they were activists supporting the legislation. Then I noticed moms carrying babies, grandmotherly-type women and some families waiting to enter the building. There were also a couple of bikers, all in black. Michael met the two men later and got a selfie with them. One of their t-shirts had a cross and a cycle and read “I pray in Jesus’ name.” The other’s shirt, loosely paraphrased, read, “Satan is bad.”
As we stood in line, we struck up a conversation with the women ahead of us and found out they were there to oppose HB19-1032. The woman in front of them joined in, saying her kids attended a charter school in Colorado Springs, and she, too, opposed the bill. We explained who we were, and they were grateful for Focus on the Family’s opposition to the legislation. Friends of ours from the Family Policy Alliance (FPA) and Colorado Family Action (CFA) – a Focus-affiliated Family Policy Council – called my cellphone as we waited in line. They had signed me up to testify, but didn’t know how much longer they could hold an empty seat for me in the hearing room. I didn’t quite understand. Why was it so hard to hold a seat at a legislative committee hearing?
Things became a little clearer – as well as a little more frenzied – once we entered the building and passed through security. As we climbed the stairs to the second floor, we heard the buzz of a large crowd. Then we saw the chaos of several hundred people trying to enter the hearing room to sign up and testify. I’d never seen anything like this at the Capitol. Camera crews from local media and people holding up cell phones were filming the noise and confusion.
The hearing room was crowded and hot. I sat next to Debbie Chavez, Executive Director of CFA. She’d texted me earlier to say she had about 20 people scheduled to testify against the bill. But when I looked around, I saw many, many more. We later found out that more than 300 people had signed up to testify – most were opposed to the bill. Capitol staffers set up overflow rooms with TV screens. First one, then two, then four, with eventually six overflow rooms for concerned citizens. Lobbyists and legislators alike said they’d never seen anything like this.
There were doctors and lawyers and policy experts against HB19-1032. Pastors, priests and parishioners came to state their opposition, an ecumenical blend of Christians from a wide variety of churches. Parents with kids in public schools, private schools, charter schools and home schools. People came from cities and towns all over Colorado, upset with this government overreach. Later I found out that about 120 Spanish-speaking pastors and congregation members came, recruited by our friends at CFA.
The House sponsor of the Bill, Rep. Susan Lontine, normally chaired the Health and Insurance Committee. As Lontine would be introducing the legislation, Rep. Janet Buckner chaired the committee. The audience was told not to react with noise, so when they agreed with testimony, those in the audience should raise their hands in the air and wave them about. Buckner noted that she’d worked with the hearing impaired and that this was how they applauded. It looked a little like a whole crowd doing “jazz hands.” Over and over. When they disagreed with testimony, the crowd would raise their hands in the air and give a “thumbs down,” like Roman spectators at a gladiator fight. With ten hours of testimony, the audience got a lot of exercise.
After testimony in favor of the bill from individuals from Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, I was very surprised – and extremely happy – when my name was called to testify in the first panel to oppose the legislation. Stephanie Curry, from FPA, was also called for the panel. Having allies at the Capitol from a number of Christian groups was also encouraging. Each of us was given two minutes to speak. Later, Michael told me there were a lot of “jazz hands” lifted behind us during our testimony.
Initially, the committee said they would cut testimony short at 9:00 PM. Later, they said they would hear all who wished to testify. Those who had to leave early could turn in written testimony which would be entered into the public record.
One highlight, for the audience, was when a priest from Jefferson County testified against the bill. The audience softly booed when he was questioned about how an abstinent priest could know anything about sex. He replied, rather drily, “I hear confessions.” The audience burst into laughter.
Michael and I left the Capitol about 4:30 PM, but the legislators still had hours more testimony to hear; most of it was in opposition to HB19-1032. Despite the tremendous opposition, the committee voted to pass the bill, along partisan lines.
Here are a few final thoughts from my day at the Capitol:
First, be not dismayed, this was one vote, moving an undesirable bill forward. Our engagement with people and our culture is a marathon, not a sprint. Focus on the Family is not primarily a political or lobbying group; our mission is to evangelize, save and strengthen marriages and equip parents. But we also realize that families are surrounded and affected by the culture, so we work to encourage people to engage in culture and policy issues. We advocate for important issues such as life, religious freedom, parental rights and free speech.
Second, elections have consequences. We’ve been saying that a lot here, after the 2018 mid-terms. When both chambers of the house and the governorship are held by one party, it’s called a “trifecta.” When no party has a trifecta, there’s a divided government, which provides some checks and balances on both parties.
In the last election, New York, as we’ve noted, shifted from a divided government to a Democrat trifecta, leading to the passage of a terrible abortion bill. Here in Colorado, the government flipped in 2013 to a Democrat trifecta; that’s when abstinence-only education was first banned and comprehensive sexual education was required. The state had a divided government for the next few years, but in 2019, it flipped again to a Democrat trifecta. So that group has power to pass legislation in line with their ideology, such as HB19-1032.
Finally, it was incredibly heartening to see so many Christians, united together, engaging in the political process. It was great to see pastors, parents and grandparents concerned about the state’s mandate to teach children about sensitive sexual and relational issues. Even if we lose a vote, when Christians care about an issue and show up in force, our voice is heard. Let’s continue to speak out – with love, truth, wisdom and courage – on these important policy issues.