Openly Gay Governor Criticizes Wave of Anti-LGBTQ Legislation as 'Un-American': 'Words Matter'

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis denounced Republican-backed bills addressing trans athletes’ participation in sports and the discussion of sexuality and gender issues in the classroom

Colorado Governor Jared Polis
Colorado Governor Jared Polis. Photo: BOB STRONG/UPI/Shutterstock

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, the first openly gay man to be elected to lead a state, spoke out against a spate of legislation addressing issues that affect LGBTQ young people, calling recent Republican bills "un-American" and examples of "overreach."

"Look, words matter. Laws matter," Polis, 46, told CNN's Dana Bash in an interview on State of the Union on Sunday.

"When a group of people, LGBT youth, feel targeted by the words and laws that some politicians espouse, of course, it can increase anxiety, depression," said the governor, who was elected in Colorado in 2018. "Many of them are already dealing with challenging issues in their own family."

Bash had asked Polis about Florida legislation critics are calling the "Don't Say Gay" bill — which would ban discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms and could, its opponents say, force educators and administrators to "out" students to their caregivers at home — as well as South Dakota's new law that segregates school athletics based on sex assigned at birth, effectively banning transgender kids from participating in sports matching their gender identity.

In various cases, the lawmakers and supporters of such measures insist they are actually about protecting minors from inappropriate topics in the classroom, ensuring parents have insight into what is being discussed or ensuring fairness in sport.

But the LGBTQ people affected say the consequences are steep — and inhumane.

Polis, a Democrat, on Sunday called the laws "an example of Republican overreach on an issue that the American people have long moved past."

"The American people as a whole are completely accepting of who people love and how they live their lives," he said on CNN.

His Republican counterpart in South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem, argued that the legislation she signed into law earlier this month was about a "level playing field."

Thanks to the new law, she said at a signing ceremony, "Girls will always have the opportunity to play in girls' sports in South Dakota, and have an opportunity for a level playing field, for fairness, that gives them the chance to experience success, go on to potentially play at a higher level, earn scholarships, perhaps play professionally, and have a career."

Critics of including transgender athletes argue they have unfair physical advantages. But doctors and scientists say that is an oversimplification not supported by the facts.

Gov. Noem was recently asked by a reporter about a statistic that says that 90 percent of LGBTQ youth in her state are diagnosed with anxiety or depression.

"I don't know. That makes me sad," Noem said. "We should figure it out."

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden called the Florida bill "hateful" in a tweet and expressed his support for the LGBTQ community. "You are loved and accepted just as you are," he said. "I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve."

In his interview, Polis suggested such laws could harm Republicans running in the upcoming midterms elections and beyond.

"These hard policies about saying certain youth can't play sports," he said, "and certain people aren't allowed in certain places, or micromanaging what restroom people use and mandating what they do are really, frankly, un-American and are an example of Republican overreach, which will ultimately hurt their party, if they can't espouse the full diversity of the American people."

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