In 2018, Brianna Titone became Colorado's first trangender state representative when she was elected in House District 27. But her 2020 reelection bid against Republican Vicki Pyne and Libertarian Cory Schaeffer has been marred by at least two examples of transphobic campaigning against her — most recently a robocall in which GOP Representative Stephen Humphrey claims that Titone's alleged "radical sexual agenda" could harm "your wives and daughters."
The robocall has been denounced in a letter from the House Majority Project signed by around fifty Democratic representatives and candidates. And while Humphrey has not responded to Westword's request for comment, a fellow Republican lawmaker considers such tactics backwards and counterproductive, and thinks they may actually help Titone remain in office.
For her part, Titone scoffs at any suggestion of a radical agenda. She notes that the only LGBTQ-related legislation she sponsored during her first term was the so-called Gay Panic or Transgender Panic Bill, which passed both houses of the Colorado General Assembly by an overwhelming majority; even Humphrey voted for it.
"I try really hard to work across the aisle to represent the people of the district to the best of my ability," she says, "and the people of my district recognize that. And since my policy positions don't give them a lot of really good ways to attack me, they're resorting to these kinds of tactics to make me look bad in any way they can."
Titone was the centerpiece of an October 20 NBC News piece about anti-LGBTQ ads. The report details a Facebook spot funded by Take Back Colorado, an organization registered to Joe Neville, brother of House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, that "misgenders Titone and refers to her by her 'deadname,' the name she used before her transition. The ad also claims Titone has 'always supported violence' and sexualizes children."
Patrick Neville denied that the ad was transphobic — but it didn't prove to be very effective. Titone raised an estimated $11,000 for her campaign in the day and a half after the item appeared, garnering donations from across the country. The aforementioned GOP lawmaker (who asked not to be named) isn't surprised; he says that the continuing use of such ugly practices is a big reason why Republicans have lost control of both Colorado's House and Senate, and he fears that more seats could go by the wayside in November. He also suspects that the latest controversy will prove to be a boost to Titone at the best possible time for her.
House District 27 has seen high turnout in recent elections. "In 2018, we had 75 percent," Titone says, "and this year, we're expecting 80 to 85 percent. So I don't expect this kind of thing would prevent anyone from wanting to vote, and if someone is going to be swayed by that kind of message, they're not likely to vote for me anyway. Most of the people who know and support me are turned off by those kinds of things."
Still, Titone sees value in speaking out against such schemes: "It's like a health issue. If you ignore it, it can end up becoming more serious and causing a great deal of pain. You need to expose these kinds of things just like you would a health issue, to make sure you're rooting it out and that people know what the source of the problem really is."
Here's the House Majority Project letter, made public on October 23:
To whom it may concern,
This morning, we were sickened to learn of yet another disgusting transphobic attack on our colleague, Representative Brianna Titone. A robocall recorded by Representative Stephen Humphrey was sent out to the voters of House District 27 warning them of a “radical sexual agenda” that could harm “your wives and daughters.” This robocall is nothing more than transphobic garbage that propagates debunked and dangerous myths and creates more hatred and animosity toward those just trying to live their authentic lives.
Let’s start by looking at Rep. Titone’s agenda. Over her two years in office, she has sponsored legislation to curb abusive practices by insurance companies, prevent price gouging during a pandemic, deprioritize test scores in college admissions, provide better behavioral health training for educators, improve the Safe2Tell program, support food banks, expand tax credits for affordable housing, limit rental application fees, encourage water conservation, and upgrade the state’s information technology systems. All of this legislation passed with bipartisan support. The only bill she’s sponsored even touching on LGBTQ issues was a bill to stop perpetrators of violence from getting away with a reduced sentence; the bill passed unanimously in the Senate and 63-1 in the House.
In contrast, Rep. Humphrey has sponsored the same bills year after year to prohibit same-sex marriage, prohibit adoption by LGBTQ couples, and allow businesses to freely discriminate against LGBTQ families. If you want to know exactly how Rep. Humphrey feels about the LGBTQ community, go listen to the audio of the House State Affairs committee meeting on February 13, 2020. In the wee hours of the morning, he presented his bill to prohibit LGBTQ marriage and adoption with an incoherent ramble of deeply ideological nonsense.
It’s pretty clear to us which of these two legislators has the “radical sexual agenda.” This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We hope to see Republican legislators and candidates join our condemnation of these attacks, oppose anti-LGBTQ policies, and stand up as LGBTQ allies.
These kinds of attacks on the LGBTQ community are sadly unsurprising. Just a few weeks ago, House Minority Leader Patrick Neville and his brother Joe put out a similarly disgusting attack ad on Facebook, one that is still running after only momentarily being taken down. Rep. Titone, on the other hand, is running a campaign that speaks to the issues that Arvada voters are worried about this year—getting through this pandemic and recession, bringing down the high cost of health care, and improving educational opportunities for their kids.
Meanwhile, the future of equal rights for the LGBTQ community is uncertain at best. While we’re encouraged by the news this week that Pope Francis has broken with tradition to support civil unions for same-sex couples, we’re also worried that the rushed confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett could mean that the US Supreme Court might revisit the Obergefell decision that guaranteed the right to marriage for same-sex couples.
We, the Colorado House Democrats, stand with Rep. Titone and every member of the LGBTQ community who feels threatened by this rhetoric and the potential violence it incites.
If you want to help, Rep. Titone asks that in lieu of a campaign contribution, you consider making a donation to PFLAG Greeley — a Weld County organization with a mission of supporting its LGBTQ community members.
Tony Exum, Sr.
Dafna Michaelson Jenet
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