RGBOCC hears concerns from public on co-ed facilities

RIO GRANDE COUNTY — Rio Grande County Commissioners opened their regular meeting on Dec. 15 and heard from a member of the public concerned about Colorado House Bill 21-1108 —Gender Identity Expression Anti-discrimination — that was passed earlier this year.

Rio Grande County resident Tricia Slater spoke to commissioners about her concerns and asked them to research the bill to see if there is any local authority to either bypass the laws or put safeguards in place to protect students.  

Polis signed HB21-1108 in May of this year. The bill amends the state’s current definition of sexual orientation and also adds the definitions and terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” into the 48 areas of state law prohibiting discrimination against members of a protected class.

On the heels of HB21-1108, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies’ Civil Rights Commission issued rules (3 CCR 708-1) that state “All [public] covered entities shall allow individuals the proper use of gender-segregated facilities that are consistent with their gender identity. Gender-segregated facilities include but are not limited to, restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms and dormitories.”  The term “gender identity” is in turn defined by the rules as follows: “Gender identity” means an innate sense of one’s own gender.”

A Colorado court case in 2013 supported the right of a 6-year-old transgender student in Fountain School district to use the restroom that aligned with her gender identity.

Slater’s concern stemmed from the repercussions of HB21-1108 rather than the bill itself, and the regulatory changes which directly affected Colorado schools who were notified of new rules from the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agency and Civil Rights Commission.

“With these two bills that Governor Polis sent down, they sent down instructions for school to immediately change their policies and to enact co-ed or gender-neutral bathrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms and dormitories for all ages, kindergarten through twelfth grade. Some San Luis Valley schools have officially opened up gender-specific bathrooms and locker rooms to the opposite sex because of these changes. There are so many people who do not know anything about this,” said Slater.  

Slater continued to explain her concerns.

“I was waiting for the opportunity to notify the commissioners and the public in a public meeting," Slater said. "The bills passed two weeks after the incident that happened in Virginia where a crime occurred in a co-ed restroom involving opposite genders. Many of our schools have already enacted these policies. It was on Monte Vista’s agenda on Dec. 14 and Sargent School District was forced to pass it two months ago. I personally believe this violates the student’s legally protected privacy. Our students shouldn’t be forced into emotionally vulnerable situations like this.” 

Slater finished by requesting that commissioners look into possible solutions to ensure the safety and continued privacy of students in the county.

Commissioner Chairman Gene Glover was the first to respond.

“I have not caught that bill, and it will be looked at and we will see what is out there and what solutions may be available,” Glover said.  

Commissioner John Noffsker and Scott Deacon also agreed that the bill was concerning and that they would continue to gather information on the topic. One possible solution that was briefly discussed was to seek funding to build new restrooms which would allow for non-discrimination and to keep everyone safe.