October 5, 2023 | FEATURES | By Taylor Lynch
As college students, it’s hard to avoid looming real-world questions. What are we working towards? How can we use our liberal arts education in the real world? Where do we belong? Luckily for us, we’re not the first ones to face these inquiries. Just one decade ago, a young Jack Teter was in our very shoes.
Teter, a 2013 graduate of Colorado College currently serves as the Regional Director of Government Affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, where he has contributed to both state and national legislation in support of healthcare and abortion access, sex-ed, and LGBTQ+ protections. Additionally, Teter serves on the boards of New Era Colorado and One Colorado, has worked on political campaigns, and became the first transgender staffer at the Colorado State Capitol.
Teter exemplifies the success one can have after CC in finding where they belong and making an impact. In his Oct. 3 talk, “Life in Transition,” co-sponsored by the Religion and Feminine & Gender Studies departments, Teter told his story, offering both advice and inspiration to the CC community.
Teter grew up in New York City and found CC after falling in love with Colorado during his time at High Mountain Institute, a semester school in Leadville. Teter started at CC believing he would major in biology, but after taking a class in religion he became fascinated with the ways in which people find meaning in their life. During his time at CC, not only did Teter transition into majoring in religion and minoring in feminist and gender studies, but he also began to explore his individual identity.
“I never knew that trans people existed until college. Sure, I grew up in New York and all of my parents’ friends were gay, but I was never exposed to anyone who was trans,” Teter said. “Realizing I was trans was not a path of misery or of secrets. It was more like a series of small steps.”
Teter paved the way for the CC transgender community, noting that in his time here, “I was one of maybe three trans people on campus. We didn’t have gender neutral bathrooms or anything like that, and there were maybe two other people who used they/them pronouns.”
To this point, Teter noted that, “The most important and hard part about being the first, is finding a sense of belonging. A sense of belonging is the most important part of well-being.”
Teter acknowledges that in the decade since he began transitioning, so much has changed for the transgender community, including access to healthcare services and public perception. While transitioning, Teter was required to travel to Florida to get top surgery, a procedure that is now common in most states.
Teter acknowledges the privilege he had both in transitioning, and in his modern profession, noting that, “I’m sure that part of the reason why I was the first trans staffer at the Capital, is because I look like me (white, affluent, educated).”
In understanding his social position, Teter notes its importance: “I joke that I have to be one of the most privileged trans people in the state of Colorado. I get to make laws around the rights of trans people like me, and that’s the way democracy should be.”
While at CC, Teter was unsure about his future. He never took a political science class, and quite frankly didn’t even like politics. During college, he began volunteering at Inside Out, a community organization that worked with LGBTQ+ youth.
Then one summer, he said, “I started looking for internships by Googling ‘Gay Religion Internship’ and got a job at LGBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, a national nonprofit dedicated to fighting for legal equality of the LGBTQ+ community.”
Teter worked as the religious representative organizer for the New York sector of the nonprofit, organizing pro-LGBTQ+ faith leaders to testify against homophobic public policy. Back in The Springs, Teter began working on the campaign of Sen. Mark Udall, who introduced Teter to Pete Lee, a Colorado politician who hired Teter as a legal aid. Teter served as campaign manager for Lee’s successful 2019 Colorado State Senate Campaign, while simultaneously working with the Denver Public School Board.
In 2019, Teter worked alongside sex-education expert and fellow CC alum Candice Woods to co-write a bill that increased the state budget for sex-ed and incorporated an LGBTQ+ friendly curriculum.
The bill faced massive criticism according to Teter who said, “This was just before the modern resurgence of groomers, and so we had people testify on the floor that we were trying to turn kids gay. They made ridiculous claims like we were teaching kindergarteners about anal fisting. Like seriously?”
Despite vulgar opposition, the bill was signed into law, but not without opposition, as Teter and Woods both received death threats.
In his current role as the Regional Director of Government Affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, Teter writes legislation, lobbies legislators and works on political campaigns to support healthcare access and LGBTQ+ rights throughout the state. He has passed bills that improved access to healthcare in Colorado, doing so in one way by requiring insurance companies to pay for human immunodeficiency virus medication and sexually transmitted infection testing.
Teter’s position has changed drastically since the Supreme Court’s 2022 overturning of Roe vs. Wade, as the political conversation has shifted from abortion being a moral to a criminal issue.
“Before Roe was overturned, abortion laws framed the procedure as either good or bad. But now that many states, including those that surround Colorado, call it a felony. Laws have become more nuanced and complex. Now they’re about access, healthcare and public policy.”
Teter’s recent efforts work towards protecting abortion access, not only for Colorado citizens, but for anyone who seeks abortion within the state. In a recent bill, Teter challenged Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which falsely advertise abortion services with pro-life aims by offering “abortion reversed” services. The bill claims that healthcare providers cannot offer or suggest medical treatment without scientific evidence.
According to Teter, “This bill is still being legally contested and will likely find its way to the Supreme Court.” Teter is also working on a 2024 ballot initiative that would repeal a Colorado 1984 state abortion funding ban. If passed, the initiative would guarantee abortion access to over two million state workers including educators, first responders and Medicaid recipients.
Throughout his talk, Teter offered advice to students regarding future steps and his political perspective.
Regarding CC, Teter notes that although he didn’t study political science. “A liberal arts education gives you transferable skills. So, my advice is to study whatever interests you,” Teter said. “The skills you learn will be applicable wherever you go.”
For those hoping to go into politics, Teter advises, “Knock on doors. Community involvement is so important, and most candidates don’t have campaign volunteering on their resumes. It’s a game changer.”
Teter offered advice into finding a sense of belonging, an issue that Teter – like many college students – struggled with.
“Even as a transgender person in Colorado Springs, I learned that finding a sense of belonging only takes a few people. It can be a professor. It can be a friend. It can be found anywhere and everywhere.”
To this point, Teter also attests that searching for belonging can breed hate. Teter argues that in our modern state, religious denominations that have previously offered a sense of belonging have begun to disappear, breeding an insurgence of quasi-religious organizations like the KKK and QAnon.
As far as politics, Teter noted that although national politics are “just a complete mess,” there is so much to be done at the state level, especially in Colorado.
“Colorado’s a swing state, and it’s a place where you can not only write bills, but you can actually change them,” Teter said.
As our nation becomes even more and more polarized, Teter noted that he does not see bipartisan politics to be an impactful solution. Rather, Teter attested, “There is a difference between politics and people. Politicians have agendas. People listen. For this reason, storytelling is a tool that is so important to shifting dialogue.”
Whether it be an abortion story, exposure to the LGTBQ+ community or overall education, Teter sees human connection as a path forward in our highly polarized society.
“I learned how important state legislatures are, which is something I had never thought about before,” Zoe Carr ’27 said at the reception following the talk. “Coming from a Democratic state where there aren’t many swing issues, it was interesting to hear how impactful state government can be.”
“I learned about the value of a liberal arts education and what you can do with it,” Leah Samuels ’27 said. “Jack Teter was a religion major, but ended up in politics, something I might be interested in. Also, the fact that a liberal arts education can connect you in terms of outreach, is something really important.”
Alyce Watt ’27 said, “What I took away was how important it is to have representation in the legislature, whether it’s state or federal. I think Jack has an important perspective about what it is to be trans, and that really impacts how he can write legislation for trans people in Colorado. I think that this is something we need to see more of in government.”