Members of the U.S. Congress have a message for transgender people: We have your back amid escalating state-sanctioned discrimination.
“No matter the opposition, no matter the setbacks, no matter who occupies the Oval Office, we see you, we hear you, and we are with you,” Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) said during Thursday’s relaunch of the Transgender Equality Task Force, an initiative of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.
The caucus first created the task force in 2015 as a resource for lawmakers to learn about transgender issues, caucus executive director Roddy Flynn said in a phone interview. Through the task force and another on LGBTQ aging, the caucus provides “a ready-to-go force (not only) to respond to attacks, but also to design ways to advocate and ways to get out in front of issues.”
Flynn said he expects the Transgender Equality Task Force to continue significant member education efforts in the 115th Congress. He said the task force in the prior Congress facilitated one-on-one meetings with lawmakers and brought in National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling to a Democratic retreat and meeting in front of all Democrats in the House of Representatives.
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Democrats compose almost the entire 103-member Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, along with two Florida Republicans, Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Ros-Lehtinen is a vocal advocate for transgender rights, often speaking out with her transgender son.
The heightened advocacy on Capitol Hill comes as the Trump administration ditched Obama-era protections for transgender students under Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funding.
Under President Obama, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education clarified that Title IX includes discrimination on the basis of gender identity, advising public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week reportedly strong-armed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos into partnering to rescind the guidance.
Title IX protects trans students, no matter what the Trump administration believes, as Rewire’s Jessica Mason Pieklo explained. Still, the withdrawal of the guidance opens questions in Gavin Grimm’s case, scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court at the end of March. Grimm is a transgender student who sued his school board in Virginia after a rule change mandated students use bathrooms that align with biological sex, not gender identity.
The full Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus is spearheading a bicameral amicus brief on behalf of Grimm to the Supreme Court, said Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), the first openly gay parent in Congress. The brief included support from 156 representatives and 40 senators, according to a news release from Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who partnered with openly gay Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) to collect signatures in the Senate.
Polis and his fellow co-chairs of the caucus—the six openly gay House members—vowed at the press conference announcing the task force to protect transgender students.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) spearheaded a letter with 121 of his colleagues asking Trump to reverse course and meet with transgender students and their families.
“This action sends the wrong message—a very dangerous message—to transgender youth and their peers,” the lawmakers wrote.
Kennedy, the task force’s chair, emphasized the disproportionate violence that transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, face in their day-to-day lives.
Standing in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, Kennedy named the seven transgender women who have been murdered in 2017.
“Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, Mesha Caldwell, Jojo Striker, Tiara Richmond, Chyna Doll Dupree, Ciara McElveen, Jaquarrius Holland. Seven women who lost their lives to violence this year alone. This country owes them better,” Kennedy said. “And the task force will fight every day to deliver them better.”