Q & A: Rep. Brianna Titone

House District 27 Representative and Arvada resident

Ryan Dunn
rdunn@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 6/14/21

In recognition of Pride Month, the Arvada Press talked to House District 27 Representative Brianna Titone — the first trans legislator elected in Colorado — about living in Arvada, the importance …

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Q & A: Rep. Brianna Titone

House District 27 Representative and Arvada resident

Posted

In recognition of Pride Month, the Arvada Press talked to House District 27 Representative Brianna Titone — the first trans legislator elected in Colorado — about living in Arvada, the importance of Pride Month and LGBTQ+ legislation.

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What brought you to Arvada?

I moved here in 2008. So, I've been here a very long time now. I was in New York in the Hudson Valley area working as a geologist for a small company based out of Pennsylvania. I was the last one hired, and they didn't want to grow, so I knew that I was going to keep doing low level work.

At that time, I had two bachelors and a master's degree and a little bit of ambition, so I didn't want to stick around being the low person on the totem pole — I wanted to do something else. I decided I was either going to go back to school or find a job. I was accepted to Tulane to get my PhD and found a job working for a mining consulting company here in Denver.

It was a very difficult decision for me to turn down a full scholarship at Tulane to get a PhD, but I decided I wanted to come out here to be in the mountains instead of being under water. And that's kind of how I ended up here. I had a couple of friends that moved here the year before, and they let me stay in their house while I found a place to live.

I like Arvada because it's central to a lot of cool stuff. It has its own cool stuff and then you've got Golden, Boulder, Denver, and it's kind of central to everything.

What led you to get involved in politics?

I was a volunteer firefighter when I was 16 and really got into that; taking all the different classes and learning all the different skills to be really good at my work as a volunteer in that respect.

When I was going to school, 9/11 happened and it was very impactful. Being close to New York City, having a lot of friends that had families that worked and lived there and seeing a lot of firefighters lose their lives in that event was impactful to me as well.

I had a couple of opportunities to join the military out of high school - they wanted me to do nuclear physics — but I had a secret life that I kept from a lot of people. As much as I didn't get to be myself that often, I could do it at home and in my private space, and when you're in the military you don't have a private space.

But I really wanted to serve my community, I wanted to help people, I wanted to do what I could to keep people safe and make sure we were looking at a brighter future for everyone, and even if nobody knew what I was doing, it didn't matter — I could feel good at the end of the day that I did something that was worthwhile.

I had to figure out what to do next. And one of the things I realized was that I was sacrificing a lot of my own happiness and my own well-being thinking about everything that I wanted to do for everybody else. It was easy at the time to just say, `I'll do everything for everybody else and forget about myself, because I can't do it anyway.' But it was at this point where I realized that I should be looking at my own self for a little bit and try to figure out what's inside me, what I need to do for my own happiness.

That's when I started to get some therapy and look into all of this stuff that I was hiding from everyone, being a closeted trans person. And once I finally got the courage to come out — and it was with the help and support of a lot of my friends who made me feel like I was welcome as myself — it was a turning point for me because I realized that I was part of a community that was under attack in a lot of ways.

And as somebody who wanted to help people and prevent people from being hurt and from being attacked, this was right up my alley. So, I just became an activist.

As an activist, I went down to the Capitol and tried to educate people on different topics and showed up to rallies and was present in a lot of different ways that I never was before because I had a lot of privilege. I didn't need to fight for anything for myself, but as someone who has not lost a lot of my privilege, I was going to stand up for other people.

Through that activism, someone asked me to run for office. At the time, a trans person hadn't won any election really to that point, but when Danica Roem won her race in 2017, along with Andrea Jenkins and Lee Cunningham, they broke the glass ceiling and it said, `it doesn't matter what your gender identity is, if you have the heard and qualifications to do the work, people can take you seriously.' And that's how I ended up deciding that I would run.

How did you navigate being an LBGTQ+ trailblazer and also an advocate for all constituents?

I had to put my best foot forward and not make it about being trans. It's about doing the work of the people, and that's what I demonstrated and showed people. I'm not just doing this work because I want to be a trans person breaking these barriers, it's about doing the work and doing it better than I've seen it done in this area because people deserve to have someone here doing the work at a high level.

I wanted to bring trust back into government because people don't believe that politicians are going to try to do what they want to do, and after I learned about how all the stuff works down at the Capitol, I totally get it.

It's really hard to get the work of the people done because people don't have lobbyists and stuff like that, and I try to be the person who represents the people to the best of my ability.

I always say that I have to wear two hats and have two different jobs. One of my jobs is to be the representative of people in House District 27 and do the work that everybody in my district is looking for me to do. And then when I have spare time, I also attend LGBTQ+ events, and I go visit schools.

It's very important for me to do that work and do it for everybody — not just for LGBTQ+ people, but for the people in my district and the people in Colo. and the people outside Colorado and around the world for that matter.

There's not a lot of our voices that are represented right now, and it's a lot of extra work that I have to do to try and inspire more people to run for office and show LGBTQ+ kids that, `Hey, look, someone like you can do whatever they want to, someone like you can be president one day.'

What does being a role model mean to you?

I never imagined myself being in a position like this. Before I came out six years ago, I just wanted to be invisible to people. I'm not the kind of person that is looking to seek attention all the time. That's just always been my personality.

It's an extra weight on my shoulders that I carry all the time, it's a big responsibility to make sure that I'm out here being as perfect as I can be in a lot of different ways. I barely win my elections every year, I have to do everything right to keep my position here so I can also do this other stuff, and this is the kind of district where you make the wrong move and you can jeopardize your position.

So, it's extremely difficult to try and be as perfect as you can and also say all the right things and do all the right things and show up everywhere. It's a lot of work and a lot of effort, but the way I look at it is that I can only do this job for a certain amount of time and I feel like the stars aligned to put me here. There were a lot of different choices I could have made that would have taken me a different route.

I don't want to squander this opportunity to help save people's lives, because that's what I set out to do a long, long time ago. There's a lot of pressure to make a difference for everybody, so I say yes to everything. You want to interview for this? Yes. You want to show up for this? Yes, because I want to make as big of an impression on people that I can to give them the tools that they need.

I'm glad I have this opportunity because it's a real blessing to be here and do this work, as hard as it is. I can rest afterwards, but I want to make the most of it while I can.

What is the importance of Pride Month, especially in a community like Arvada?

In general, it's about being your authentic self and being unapologetically authentic in who you are. When we're here together, that togetherness leads to strength in numbers. Just like in Stonewall, when everybody took to the streets, that was a turning point, and it was that solidarity and that community — that's how we can make change.

When we say the LGBTQ+ community, we really mean community in that respect. We all stick up for each other, we support each other. There still needs to be a little work involving the trans community. People seem to forget about us because it's very similar to things where, 'Well, I've got my rights and now I'm done and I'm not going to support you because I don't need to.' We need to remind ourselves about who the people were at Stonewall and how some of those folks were trans people and that everybody deserves to be equal.

What strides does Colorado still need to make in terms of LGBTQ+ issues?

There are a bunch of different things that are still not quite complete yet. Marriage licenses are one thing. I was looking on running a bill on that to help trans people who are married before they come out as being trans and have a name change to be able to update their marriage license instead of having a new one.

The thing about a lot of these issues is that it doesn't affect a lot of people, so it's not really high priority bills that we're looking at. I try to do that as a late bill, I'll probably work on that maybe next year.

In terms of health care, we have OK health care. Medicaid is pretty good for trans people, they can get a lot of the things there want, but there's still a few things that aren't covered when it comes to healthcare.

There are issues about adding mandates to coverage. That's a federal issue that we're actually looking at with one of my bills right now which is House Bill 1068, which is the mental health wellness exam and having a new mandate on health care can cause the state to be fined by the federal government. That becomes a problem if you're trying to give coverage to people that didn't have it before, mandating insurance companies to provide those services, you can run into this problem where the federal government can fine us.

With Jude's Law, they specifically left out people who are incarcerated or have felony records from getting their name changed without some additional obstacles. There are some arguments coming from the other side that are potentially legitimate; `Well, what if someone wants to change their name because they want to get away from the crimes they had before.' That's hard to argue about when you're passing policy because those kinds of arguments can be used and twisted against you in an election.

The one thing we really need to change, and I'm going to be talking to a lot of the folks who do trans care in Colorado, is about increasing the number of doctors who can actually treat trans people, because there's not a lot of people who really know how to care for trans people and their specific needs and there's a lot of people on wait lists to try and see doctors.

There needs to be training, that needs to be doctors and organizations that work in the medical field with trans people to put together this training program. Hopefully there will be doctors who would be happy to take on new patients that are trans. We need to increase the number of doctors who proficient in this kind of care so that way there's more options for people.

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