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Colorado lawmakers are clashing over bills to protect the use of a chosen name by transgender people

DENVER (AP) — The Colorado House of Representatives was tense Friday morning as the Democratic majority pushed through the chamber two bills that would protect the chosen names of transgender people: a law that would allow those convicted of a crime to change their names to conform to their gender identity and another that school requires. the staff will use the name chosen by the student.

These are the latest in a slew of bills across the country that have created a national tug-of-war. Democratic-controlled legislatures, including Hawaii and New Jersey, have introduced bills similar to Colorado’s, while Republican lawmakers in Idaho, Kansas, Wyoming and Louisiana dug in their heels with bills in the opposite direction.

The proposals sparked emotional debate and at times tears on the Colorado House floor Friday, along with several pauses to negotiate what could and could not be said in the pit. The morning included wide-eyed surprise and gasps from both sides, leading to a back and forth of responses and accusations throughout a three-hour discussion.

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“I am clearly offended by the generalization and characterization of transgender people with crimes against children,” said Democratic Rep. Brianna Titone, a transgender woman, as she stared at Republicans in the chamber. “I won’t accept that.”

Both bills passed the House roughly on party lines and now move to the Senate for further debate.

Republicans pushed back on the bill to allow those convicted of a crime to change their name to match their gender identity, arguing that it would allow those who committed future crimes to adopt a new name hide.

“Thank you for helping them when they want to engage in criminal activity, thank you for helping them conceal their identity,” said Republican Rep. Richard Holtorf.

Democrats pointed out that a name change still must be signed off by a judge, and that the ability for someone convicted of a crime to change their name has existed for years in cases of marriage and adoption.

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“If this was really about saying, ‘People with crimes shouldn’t be able to change their names,’ and not just about one group of people, we would have heard of every woman who has committed a crime trying to hide when they that wants. Get married,” said Rep. Jennifer Bacon, assistant majority leader for House Democrats.

The second bill discussed Friday would require school staff to use the names chosen by students and would make it a form of discrimination not to do so. Democratic Rep. Jennifer Parenti described how her transgender teen first started using her chosen name at school before later speaking to Parenti.

“I looked at it and said, ‘I’m sorry if I ever gave you the impression that this wouldn’t be right,’” Parenti said, tears welling in his eyes. But “it makes sense … that someone would want to try something so difficult in a safe environment before talking to their parents about it.”

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That’s the gist of the argument the bill’s proponents have made, saying the measure would especially protect transgender youth, whose families may not be as accepting. In turn, Republicans argued that this bill would take away parents’ rights and limit their involvement in their child’s lives. The bill does not require the school to keep parents in the dark.

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Bedayn is a staff member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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