Ahead of Democrats assuming control of the U.S. House in the next Congress, the Congressional Transgender Task Force led by Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.) held a meeting on Capitol Hill on Wednesday with transgender rights supporters to outline priorities amid continuing anti-LGBT policies from the Trump administration.
The meeting was closed to the public, but Kennedy and other participants held a conference call immediately after the discussion to highlight key points, including oversight of the Trump administration’s anti-LGBT policies and advancement in the House of the Equality Act, legislation that would bar discrimination against LGBT people.
Kennedy said after the call he’s “excited” for Democrats to take the majority “and to be able to dictate, or help dictate and agenda for Congress and to put out an alternative narrative for some of the opportunities and challenges we’re confronting as a country.”
“I hope and expect that one of the primary areas of focus for the 116th Congress is going to be ensuring that every single American gets treated fairly, and a big piece of that is obviously around our LGBTQ community, particularly given the target that they have been labeled with by the Trump administration,” Kennedy said. “While the target applies to multiple aspects of the LGBTQ community, no one has been targeted like the trans community has.”
As examples, Kennedy pointed to President Trump’s transgender military ban “that was sent out by tweet,” the reported proposal within the Department of Health & Human Services to erase transgender people from federal laws, Immigration & Customs Enforcement policy that allowed Roxsana Hernández to be beaten to death while in detention and the revocation of Obama-era guidance requiring schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity.
A Kennedy aide said other attendees at the meeting aside from Kennedy were Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash), top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and gay Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.).
LGBT advocates in attendance, the aide said, were Luc Athayde-Rizzaro, policy counsel for the National Center for Transgender Equality; Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center; Sharon McGowan, chief strategy officer for Lambda Legal; Ian Thompson, senior legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union; Diego Miguel Sanchez, director of advocacy, policy and partnerships for PFLAG National; and David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign.
Athayde-Rizzaro said during the conference call two key questions for the new House Democratic majority in oversight of the “frankly, lawless and reckless administration” are 1) How do officials justify the anti-trans policy? and 2) What special interests and hate groups are informing this policy, and do any internal briefings and memos reflect that?
“I know that millions of Americans, including the 1.4 million transgender adults and hundreds of thousands of transgender youth in this country who have been frightened by attacks on who we are will be really be relieved to finally have a check on a president who has been nothing short of hostile to our rights and liberties,” Athayde-Rizzaro said.
Belkin spoke to Trump’s transgender military ban, warning the U.S. Supreme Court could allow the policy to go into effect at any time if the judiciary buys the claim the policy isn’t really a ban because it allows certain transgender people to serve.
“In arguing before the courts, the administration has tried to pretend that the Mattis policy is not a ban, ‘Oh, it’s just an even-handed health regulation that applies to every single service member, oh it allows transgender troops to serve,” Belkin said. “No. That’s not true. The Mattis policy is a ban. Period. Full stop. It is a ban on transgender service. It is a ban on transgender people. It is ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ for transgender troops.”
Stacy said passing the Equality Act would end the “patchwork” of legal protections for LGBT people throughout the United States that currently exists in the form of state law and non-discrimination ordinances.
“We have states that have laws, states that don’t have laws, we have federal protections in that some cases have been interpreted to include protections for LGBTQ people and transgender people specifically, and others where they have not, and we really need a comprehensive solution to that problem to clarify that federal law does protect people on the basis of their gender identity as well as ensuring that those areas that are not currently protected by federal law, we add those protections,” Stacy said.