[Editor’s note: Members of the Colorado State House and Senate voted to suspend activities in the current legislative session due to public health concerns. The session is tentatively schedule to resume Monday, March 30th. While our legistlators aren’t meeting at the statehouse, work continues in district offices and communities statewide.]
State Representative Brianna Titone is a breath of fresh air in Colorado’s political community. Titone took the Colorado government by surprise as the state’s first transgender legislator, defeating her opponent with an unbelievably narrow 50.4% of the vote to win her election with 24,957 votes out of 49,475, a margin of 439 (and they say your votes don’t really matter).
Along with shattering Colorado statehouse’s trans-glass ceiling, Titone is only one of four transgender officials nationwide; woefully inadequate representation for a very large and underrepresented community. While tirelessly working on bills that focus on Colorado residents, it is clear that Brianna Titone has her sights set on improving Colorado for future generations. We sat down and got to know the real Brianna Titone. She opened up about her history, her work, and the identity box people want to confine her to.
Titone spent her childhood in Hudson Valley, New York. She grew up in what she describes as a loving and attentive family; one that prioritized educating their children on the value of finance along with the value of human relationships. For college, she attended the University of New York at New Paltz, where she earned her BA in Geology, followed by studies at Stony Brook University to earn an MS in Geochemistry. From there Titone turned her sights to Western Michigan University for a Hydrogeology summer program, which led to work in Environmental Counseling.
Eventually she found herself set on moving to Colorado. Clearly Titone’s first passion wasn’t politics, but the earth. She turned to politics – another arena of stony concerns – after her move to colorful Colorado.
A brief history: in 2016 Titone was elected as a delegate at the County Assembly for then presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, giving us a view into her political leanings. She then joined the LGBTQ+ Caucus for Jefferson County in February of 2017, and was appointed Secretary/Treasurer later that year.
In November 2018 Titone was elected to serve as State Representative to Colorado’s 27th House District. The importance of that moment cannot be understated, but let’s be very clear: Brianna Titone is so much more than just a trans person. She is a daughter, a wife, and a politician. We don’t call other elected officials “straight/cis representatives”; there’s a clear issue with confining Titone to a single identity box when her work – and her – are so much more than that.
“My identity is important to a lot of people,” Titone tells us. “I always make it a point to talk to people about it in order to inspire the next generation. If you feel like you are different and you are feeling your future will be difficult because of who you are, don’t worry about it. People like me are working to pave the way for you to be accepted and allow you to get the work you want to get done [sic].” Titone no longer feels the need to explain her identity to the individual’s stuck on the subject; actions speak loudly and her actions for the people speak for themselves.
Colorado’s Jefferson County Republican party has set their focus on Titone’s identity, along with her liberal politics, rather than on her progress over the last year. In 2019, the Jefferson County Republican party attacked Titone’s menstrual hygiene bill on social media. Titone explained, “They attacked my menstrual hygiene bill. They are upset that I won and that I took away one of their seats. Just like anyone, if you want to win something back, you try to fight for it. They did not read the article about the bill. They started stating that the government is trying to force this bill onto everyone and that the government is going to supply everyone and give away all this free stuff,” a clear misreading – however willfully – of the proposed legislation. “Everyone began to get in an uproar about something that is not even true. So I had to come along and post on their social media post stating, ‘I am the one running the bill, let me tell you what it does, because obviously they didn’t read it.’”
Titone had to explain even the most simplistic of points to those determined not to understand. Talk about identity politics: “It is not about me being trans. It is about me being a Democrat. Perception bias is a huge problem in politics right now… I believe in a lot of the same things that Republicans believe in. I look at the facts and data, I vote on the concept of the bill, and make sure the things we are doing are what is right for the people that we represent.”
In a more recent issue, just this past January, Denver Post licensed columnist Dan Caldara was fired for his rejection of appropriate pronoun use and his “politically incorrect” [read: unwillingness to show respect] opinions on trans rights; that is, he was fired for refusing a directive from a superior. He was dutifully corrected for his antiquated, bigoted, and scientifically illiterate pronoun antagonisms. This can’t be understated. The columnist publicly insisted, “there are only two sexes.”
Caldara refused to use appropriate pronouns for Titone even after being told to. “When people lack empathy they cannot see that their words and actions are hurting others,” Titone lamented, after learning of the dismissal. Caldara posted an insensitive statement on Facebook to shore up his position: “To force us to use inaccurate pronouns, to force us to teach our children that there are more than two genders, to call what is clearly a man in a robe, well, not a man in a robe, violates our rights to speak.” Legally speaking there isn’t a right “to speak”; you have a constitutionally protected right to speech, safeguarding you from government interference or censorship. In no way are you free of consequence at work or in life for speech that is false, breaks company policy, or is clearly hateful.
Speaking of hate: January 15, 2020 marked a grim day for the trans youth of Colorado. Colorado introduced the House Bill 20-1114 that is set to restrict multiple forms of medical treatment physicians are able to administer to transgender youth statewide. The LGBT+ rights organization, One Colorado, warned Colorado of the dangers of interfering with transgender youths’ medical care. Trans adolescents are five times more likely to consider suicide than their peers. Trans adolescents that have access to hormone and gender reassignment medical care have 52% less of a chance of completing suicide. Executive Director of One Colorado, Daniel Ramos, pleads with Colorado’s legislators:, the “Medical care of transgender people should be determined by health professionals, not politicians.”
Through the pushback, Rep. Titone has pushed forward. Colorado state representatives are elected to two year terms. The second year of her term began this past January 8th when the session was called to order. In her first year’s time Titone has successfully passed multiple bills, specifically with a focus on improving all Colorado resident’s daily lives. Titone has protected Colorado renters’ interests with her Rental Application Bill, which is another effort to protect tenant rights, and also covers several areas of interest to renters. Titone also successfully passed the Tax Credit Allocation Bill, which increased the tax credit for affordable housing up until December of 2024. In fact, let’s take a deeper look at some of her more pressing – and impressive – legislative work.
Titone to the Future: Bills in Progress
Titone is working to answer the needs of her district and, in doing so, is serving all of Colorado. With eighteen bills proposed, seven of which she was the prime sponsor and eleven co-sponsored in her first year, her second year is shaping up to be another stretch of incredible achievement and great work for the community. Her second year is set to focus on protection and wellbeing for the residents in her district. Let’s take a look at what she’s working on for 2020.
Student Menstrual Products Bill
Titone has been hard at work to improve the safety and quality of life for the students in Colorado schools. She has taken the time to sit down with Colorado students Julia Trujillo and Jocelyn Gotfred to join their fight to make menstrual hygiene products available to all students in public schools.
“When it comes to the Menstrual Hygiene Product bill, it was a perfect opportunity to allow the students to show their leadership skills and show them how the process works,” she tells us. “It was also a great way to help kids in need around the state.” Rep. Titone communicates with the students via email and monthly meetings to spitball ideas and to discuss the bill’s progress.
A Colorado high school senior, Jocelyn Gotfred explained, “I honestly couldn’t imagine running this bill with any other representative. When I first heard we were sitting down with a state representative I was honestly a little nervous. Immediately this fear went away when we met with her for the first time. Brianna made it clear from the beginning that this is our bill, and she is just running it. This has made the experience so impactful on all of us, knowing that we truly are the ones designing this bill.”
Discussing the importance of the bill, and recognizing what students have been dealing with, historically, without access to these products, Gotfred says, “When we started this project back in January of last year (2019) I had no idea how far we would have come. After we undertook this project at our own school, I think all of us started to realize that this is a fight that no high school girls should have to put up with… That’s when the bill became all the more important to this whole project. If our bill passes,” a promising prospect in our democratic party controlled state legislature where Titone has many allies, “we would be able to not only get free and accessible products to girls all over the state, but also, in doing so, I believe we would be putting a huge dent into period stigma in high schools. The fact that you spend four years in a place that doesn’t even provide for your basic health needs is outrageous, and of course that only furthers the idea that a period is something to feel shameful about.”
Julia Trujillo adds that, “Our club has put a tremendous amount of work into getting accessible menstrual products in our own school restrooms. From convincing our administration to fundraising to going through countless logistical constraints, the process has taken a lot of work. Through this undertaking, we realized no other students should have to fight this hard for access to a basic necessity. We wanted Colorado students, especially [the less privileged], to have the access to period products that we believe is essential to being comfortable, safe, and dignified in the learning environment. Working alongside Brianna Titone has been so incredible. She has been so down-to-earth and truly passionate about doing what is best for us and all the people she represents and we’re so grateful for her support for our dream.”
Titone explained that she is attempting to work with the hygiene product manufacturers directly to create a cost effective process. The remaining details are set to be worked out this upcoming year.
Mental Health & Educational Resources Bill
Titone also launched a mental health and suicide prevention bill with a focus on providing mental health resources Coloradans. “We started to do these large stakeholder meetings to hear from the people about what is going on with them personally, what we are missing, and how we can do better,” she explains. “The problem is no one is taking the initiative to spread the word about what resources we have available.” That’s where her bill comes in.
The goal of the Mental Health Educational Resources bill is to have mental health services readily available to all qualifying residents. In addition to providing the mental health courses, the bill is set to ensure each resident is aware of the benefits that are available, county to county. The national suicide rate is cureently sitting at about 25 percent. Titone feels that if people have access to appropriate information and classes on coping skills to manage their mental health, that progress will directly lowering our state’s suicide rate.
Natural Organic Reduction Bill
State Senator’s Rodriguez and Titone joined forces at a press conference this past December 2019 to announce their Natural Organic Reduction bill. What is that? Well, until recently, Colorado residents have had two options after death: burial or cremation. Pretty standard stuff, but with land being scarce and cremation being energy intensive, in addition to changes in opinion about how we deal with the dead, other options have been developed and are available around the world. Dealing with dead bodies, it turns out, is regulated by the state.
The Natural Organic Reduction bill provides an affordable third option for Coloradans. The process involves placing the deceased into an accelerated decomposition vessel that can easily be returned to loved ones. “The process contains wood chips, straw, and alfalfa. It takes 30 days for it to break down into a dirt-like state. It is an accelerated process. It is the same exact thing that would happen if you were to die in the forest and were never found. It would take longer due to the fact that it is out in the open. We want to give people the option to do it because it’s better for the environment. The process takes one eighth of the energy used for cremation. There is a 76% cremation rate in the US. Most people do it because it is a lot cheaper than burial. The natural reduction will be a lot more affordable. Most people think cremation isn’t bad for the environment. You have to burn gas to get the fire up and it’s a lot of energy.”
Titone says that she would prefer the natural reduction option for herself as well as her loved ones. Considering the remains are turned into a form of soil, she says, “If I were to do it I would want to become an orchid; they are beautiful and delicate plants. Orchids grow on trees. I like the idea of becoming a tree; all my flowers would be out of harm’s way.”
Right to Repair Bill
Have you ever broken your phone, gotten a virus on your computer, or had mechanical issues with essential equipment? There is a consumer protection bill in the works just for you. “Manufacturers don’t make devices fixable for the public. They don’t want you to fix it, they want you to throw it out, and then get a new one. It also affects how easily the item is recyclable. A Lot of resources go into making phones,” Titone reminds us. The cellphone you may be reading this article on is made up of multiple minerals such as gold, tin, lithium, and silver that are mined all over the world. “There are over 200 minerals that are mined world wide just to make our phones. We are going through all these resources and harming the environment in a big way. The manufacturers are putting profits over the harm of the environment and over the rights to their consumers. We need to do better.”
The right to repair bill isn’t just for cell phones, but for all electronics and even major mechanical equipment. “Another issue is farming equipment,” Titone points out. “John Deere farming tractors, in particular. You cannot replace a part with an electrical component and restart your tractor until you call in for a code from the manufacturer. You then need to wait for the code or you need to wait for their employee to come and get your tractor started. No one has time for that; these people have things to do. Some farmers have turned to the dark web to get hacked software from places like the Ukraine just to get their tractors to work again. They are getting exposed to all sorts of hackers and viruses. It’s pretty ridiculous!”
As a State Representative, Titone is flooded with the community’s questions and concerns on a daily basis, and it is up to her to determine how she can best serve the district. “I take all requests seriously. I do research to find out what the impact of the issue is, how it is going to help, and how much it is going to cost. I welcome people to come talk to me, to tell me whether or not they like what I do, because that is how I become a better representative. It’s when I hear from people, that is what helps me solidify what people in my district really think.”
Rep. Brianna Titone has served just over one of two years in office for House District 27 and, we reminded her, re-election is just around the corner. She smiled at the subject and laid out her game plan: “We are going to keep knocking on doors. We hope to be the number one house district in door knocking this year. Last election I believe we came in third. I knocked on 8,700 doors personally,” she points out. “My team knocked on close to 50,000 doors total. We want to talk to more people. This year I have earned a track record. I have some accomplishments I can talk about. I can talk about what I want to do in the future. I want to ask the people what they want me to work on. We want to reach out to more conservative people, to see if they could [sic] see the work that I’ve done, maybe they’ll give me a shot and vote for me.”
“This job as an elected representative is as difficult as you want to make it,” she says, firmly ensconced in her small office on the third floor of the state capitol, across the hall from Rep. Singer’s office. It’s his last year in office for House District 11, given term limits, and Titone has expectations of being here doing the people’s work just as long as Singer was.
“I make it difficult because I want to do the most amount of work that I can with the time that I have. The problem is I can never make everyone happy. That is the nature of politics,” Titone says. “Everyone has their own opinion. I don’t want people to think that what they see on Fox News is what is happening on a state level. The state level gets stuff done. The state level is where the real work happens. When the federal government fails, we do it here. Get to know us,” she suggests. “We are real people.”
Far beyond identity boxes and expectations, Representative Titone was the prime sponsor of 7 bills and sponsored eleven more bills in just her first year. With a second year in office to go before the election in November, working on efforts that affect all Coloradans – across identity and ideology – and with a heart firmly planted in seeing good things happen all across the state, we fully expect the people of her district to step up, once again, to support Brianna Titone. Her re-election means she can continue her work. Our work. The people’s work.
All images courtesy of Rep. Titone, used with permission.