Colorado Republicans rebuke members who supported Montana transgender lawmaker

The Colorado Republican Party officially reprimanded four elected GOP officials Monday for joining Democrats in defense of a Montana lawmaker who was kicked off the chamber’s floor while defending gender-affirming care for that state’s youth.

New Colorado Republican chair Dave Williams announced the reprimand Wednesday morning in a fundraising email loaded with anti-trans and anti-drag rhetoric. The email and the formal resolution admonished state Reps. Ron Weinberg and Rick Taggart, Castle Pines Councilmember Roger Hudson and Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon, all Republicans.

Weinberg, a Loveland Republican who just finished his first legislative session and is one of just 19 members of his caucus, said he felt abandoned by his party for standing up for First Amendment rights. Republicans have less power and less representation in Colorado state government than at any point since World War II.

“They went out of their way to eat their own,” Weinberg said of the fundraising letter. “This was intended to make Republicans look bad. It wasn’t a simple ‘statement and read the letter.’ It was a blatant attack on Republicans.”

The four Republicans signed onto a letter in May that was authored by state Rep. Brianna Titone, an Arvada Democrat, to call for the full reinstatement of Montana Democratic state Rep. Zooey Zephyr to her chamber.

Zephyr was barred in April from speaking on the floor of the Montana House of Representatives. She had refused to apologize for telling colleagues that they would have “blood” on their hands if they supported a ban on gender-affirming care for youths and a protest to support her later erupted in the chamber. The Republican-controlled chamber voted that she had violated decorum rules. Studies show trans youth are at a heightened risk of suicide without gender-affirming care.

Titone wrote the May letter to support “a lawmaker who is doing what she has been charged to do: Stand up and speak out on behalf of constituents on issues directly impacting them.” Titone also called Zephyr’s removal “one more attempt to erase trans people and silence them in the face of increasing violence, threats to their lives, and laws that seek to deny their humanity and basic human rights.” Titone, like Zephyr, is a trans woman.

In addition to the four Republicans, all the Democrats in the Colorado House of Representatives, most of the Senate Democrats, Treasurer Dave Young, Secretary of State Jena Griswold and several local elected leaders signed onto the letter.

The Colorado Republican’s resolution singles out the four Republicans for their “disgraceful actions” in “helping radical Democrats to score political points by spreading lies against Montana House Republicans.”

The resolution only makes a passing mention of the gender issues at play, noting Zephyr’s effort was to “prevent a bill on banning so-called ‘gender affirming care’ in Montana.” But Williams’ fundraising letter is headed by images of people in drag with children. In one image, a drag queen appears to be reading a book while children sit on others’ laps. In the second, a child appears to be interacting with a drag performer who has dollar bills sticking from their outfit’s waistline.

Weinberg, who just finished his first term in the House, said his “jaw hit the floor” when he saw the fundraising email. He said he had heard about the possible resolution weeks before, and again on Friday, but his questions to Williams about it went unanswered.

For him, the entire issue was about First Amendment rights and an elected representative’s ability to represent their constituents. He summed up his stance with the adage that, while he may disagree with the other person, he’ll still defend their ability to speak. He felt the philosophy especially poignantly following a session where House Democrats frequently invoked chamber rules to end debate during Republican filibusters.

“They treated Rep. Zephyr like a dog, putting her outside the chamber, all the while Republicans in Colorado are moaning — moaning — about rule 14 and 16 and being shut down,” Weinberg said, referring to House rules to limit debate. “It’s a double standard if we didn’t say anything. That’s how I took it.”

He added, “This has nothing to do with transgender. This is about what happened, and what happened is wrong.”

Williams did not respond to requests for comments. While the party’s fundraising started to fall off ahead of his selection as its new chair, it has so far failed to pick up under his tenure, as well — marking this as a notable attempt to open up pocketbooks.

Hudson, the Castle Pines City Council member named in the resolution who also serves as deputy chief of staff for the Colorado House Republicans, took issue with the process behind the resolution. In addition to the vote being held on a state holiday, Juneteenth, it also lacked the appropriate 30-day notice.

Hudson said he only signed Titone’s letter “to leverage my advantage against the Colorado Democrat bullies in the future” over shutting down debate in Denver. The committee’s admonishment instead only serves to further damage a historically hampered Republican Party and take time away from more pressing issues, he said.

“I cannot speak to the motives of Dave Williams in passing any resolution that would limit the free speech of any American or duly elected Colorado Republican — but I am positive that it doesn’t reduce the property taxes of a single Coloradan, increase housing for Colorado families, or make our communities any safer,” Hudson said in a text message. “Nothing has changed for me — despite this unprecedented action or as our state party is pushed into bankruptcy under current leadership; I continue to work for the people of Colorado and my amazing city of Castle Pines.”

Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon, in a letter to the Republican Executive Committee that was provided to the Denver Post, likewise defended his signing the letter on First Amendment grounds.

“As Chairman of the Board of the last conservative county in the Denver metro area, who has also served as vice chairman and treasurer of the Douglas County Republican Party, I will continue to actively fight censorship, book burning, and any other fascist behaviors which our brave men and women in the military fought and died to overcome,” Laydon said. “I have faith that as intelligent, right-minded Colorado Republicans, you will also continue to honor what our flag stands for and never bow to those that would censor speech, even speech we may disagree with.”

Taggart did not respond to a request for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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