On June 8, the Colorado General Assembly wrapped up the legislative session. Out of over 500 bills signed into law this year, here’s a recap of five designed to advance progress for the LGBTQ community in Colorado. Core areas of focus include health care access, new protected classes and equality in the foster care system. As a result, each new law stands to have a significant impact on LGBTQ equality.
Some bills provide necessary short term services to LGBTQ people harmed by the pandemic. Others establish long term protections to advance LGBTQ equality in the state.
1. Military Benefits For LGBTQ Veterans
SB21-026: Restoration of Honor Act returns dignity to LGBTQ veterans. For decades, people serving in the military were dishonorably discharged for identifying as LGBTQ. In those cases, the military stripped veterans of all honor and military benefits.
Restoration of Honor Act ensures LGBTQ veterans in Colorado receive full honor and benefits from the state.
The bill is a major step for addressing inequality in veteran’s affairs. Now, Colorado will restore honor to veterans who rightfully earned state benefits through their service.
2. Anti-discrimination Protections In Foster Care
HB21-1072: Equal Access Services for Out-of-Home Placements prevents discrimination against any foster child or parent on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, religion, ability and all protected classes. Over 30% of children living in the foster care system identify as LGBTQ. That’s nearly one in three children. Additionally, 5% of children identify as transgender. LGBTQ children face disproportionate discrimination and harm within the foster care system. This includes harassment and dangerous attempts at conversion therapy. Also, they are more likely to be denied a safe placement.
Once signed into law, the bill secures LGBTQ children the right to become a part of a safe family and support system through foster care or adoption.
Additionally, the bill protects LGBTQ adults who are eligible foster or adoptive parents. Bias and discrimination in the foster care system denied so many eligible adults the opportunity to raise a family for decades. Now those eligible adults are protected from discrimination.
3. Gender Identity Expression Anti-discrimination
HB21-1108: Gender Identity Expression Anti-discrimination adds transgender and non-binary folks to the list of protected classes in Colorado. Protected classes in the state earn protection from statutes prohibiting major discriminatory practices. Trans and non binary people are now protected from discrimination in employment, housing and public spaces.
In practice, no one in the state of Colorado can discriminate against someone on the basis of gender expression and gender identity. This includes employers, businesses, housing, government officials, banking institutions and more. Now, transgender and non binary folks have legal rights and protections through the state to take action if such discrimination occurs. Creating anti-discrimination laws to protect transgender and non binary Coloradans is an important step for LGBTQ equality.
4. Creating Prescription Drug Affordability
SB21-175: Prescription Drug Affordability Board creates a state board to review prescription drug prices in Colorado.
Prescription drug prices are at an all time high in the U.S. While this affects a wide range of people, LGBTQ people experience a disproportionate impact. LGBTQ people are less likely to have health insurance due to existing employment discrimination. Thus, many have to pay for prescription drugs out of pocket. Depending on the condition, the cost ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars a month. Additionally, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is an expensive prescription. HRT is a drug many transgender people take if they want a physical transition. HRT ranges anywhere from $130-$240 per month, or $1,560-$2,44o per year.
Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board
Once signed into law, the bill establishes a prescription drug affordability review board. The board will review the current prices of each prescription drug available in Colorado. Then they will determine the level of affordability. After, the board will set upper payment limits for each prescription drug, or the greatest price a company can charge a consumer.
Implementing upper payment limits for prescription drugs will likely create affordability for Coloradans. For many LGBTQ Coloradans who lack health insurance or are under-insured, affordability can be life changing. Now, they can take money spent on prescription drugs and establish savings or repay loans. Prescription drug affordability expands LGBTQ equality in healthcare.
5. Rapid Mental Health Response For Colorado Youth
HB21-1258: Rapid Mental Health Response For Colorado Youth creates a temporary youth mental health services program. The Colorado Department of Human Services administers the program. During the pandemic, mental health worsened for a majority of youth in Colorado. Rapid Mental Health Response provides necessary tools, resources and treatment for youth in the state. Many youth are suffering from anxiety, depression, substance abuse and health crises . The program will begin no later than July 1.
COVID-19 created a mental health crisis for LGBTQ youth. A February 2021 health survey found eight in 10 LGBTQ youth felt their mental health worsened since the pandemic began. LGBTQ youth and adults are already at a heightened risk of mental health issues. This comes from a potential lack of guaranteed physical, mental and emotional safety in their daily lives. The pandemic compounded many issues for LGBTQ youth. Colorado’s rapid response program can bring much needed relief for youth.