At public event, Colorado sheriff candidate pledges to implement anti-trans policies if elected

Editor’s Note: This story mentions detailed examples of transphobia and homophobia.

MONTEZUMA COUNTY, Colo. — Transgender people and advocates are sounding the alarm over a Montezuma County sheriff candidate after he suggested that transgender people and drag queens should go to jail.

Odis Sikes, who is running for sheriff despite having no previous law enforcement experience, told a crowd at a meeting on Monday that he believed a drag queen willing to read stories to children at a local library should have been arrested for child abuse.

“I think the sheriff should have gone there and said ‘you have to get out of this county and never come back or you’ll go to jail,'” Sikes told event attendees. , and they wanted it in our library.”

Sikes’ comments came after a parent asked him if he would “go to college and tell the principal he can’t use that transgender shit on our kids.”

Responding to the same question, Sikes suggested sending deputies to school board meetings to make sure teachers aren’t teaching critical race theory or gender expression.

While the comments were cheered by the crowd, parents and allies of transgender children called her comments “odious”.

“I saw it and thought ‘Hello, fascism,'” said Janet Hough, an LGBTQ+ mother of two in the Montezuma-Cortez School District. “He wants to go arrest anyone who has shown any form of support or non-partisanship. He’s just gonna go and arrest all these people for no reason.

Hough expected Sikes’ comments to turn into hateful actions, a concern she says is heightened in an area where LGBTQ+ children already face harassment and hate with little support.

“It’s concerning, because the people who went to that meeting are saying the same things to their kids, and maybe they have a kid that’s not cis or straight,” Hough said. “It flows.”

In an interview with Rocky Mountain PBS, Sikes doubled down on his hateful comments and said he “didn’t care” if some found the comments offensive.

“I don’t care, to tell you the truth,” Sikes said.

Sikes also said that drag queens and transgender people “indoctrinate” children and “force them to be transgender.”

“If someone did that to my kids, that someone would be in big trouble,” Sikes said. “Children need to be raised and let them be what they become. They don’t need to be indoctrinated and they don’t need to be groomed.

Sikes could not show any evidence that the existence of gender non-conforming people “forces” children to come out as transgender or express their gender differently, but said the evidence is “all over the internet”. When asked for specific links to studies, Sikes replied that he had none.

“Just the very looks of it say it’s OK, but I don’t think it’s OK at all,” Sikes added. “It’s the very appearance of these people.”

Sikes also used an offensive slur to describe LGBTQ people.

State and national LGBTQ advocacy and hate groups have reported cases like Sikes as part of a larger playbook, with right-wing media figures and politicians target gender non-conforming people, calling them “groomers” and insisting that they “indoctrinate children”.

As hate speech continues to rise to the forefront of mainstream politics, several states have banned transgender athletes from participating in school sports and propose to ban children from attending drag shows.

The Human Rights Campaign said rhetoric like Sikes’ comments had tangible adverse consequences, with online LGBTQ+ hatred up 400% after Florida passed the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prohibits schools from teaching about the existence of LGBTQ identities.

While Colorado has guaranteed protections for transgender residentsstate advocates said it was far from a safe haven for LGBTQ+ people, especially in rural areas.

“These people are taking over our school boards and it’s very scary,” said Lance McDaniel, a Montezuma County resident and LGBTQ+ advocate. “It’s scary to live in an area where kids can’t be kids and people can’t be people.”

McDaniel said Montezuma County is plagued with a host of other issues — poverty, drugs, theft and unemployment — and he’s disappointed to see a sheriff’s candidate focusing on anti-trans bigotry instead of what he sees as much bigger issues.

“If you’re worried about transgender people, instead of worrying about the other things that come with living in a poor county and focusing on things like putting assistants in the classrooms to make sure the teachers don’t say the wrong words, to me that’s obscene,” McDaniel said. “It’s completely and utterly against everything I believe in.”

Alison Berg is a multimedia reporter at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at [email protected].

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