Metro Weekly

LGBT Equality Caucus relaunches Transgender Equality Task Force

Task force aims to restore protections for transgender students, and fight against discriminatory measures

Nancy Pelosi speaking at the launch of the Transgender Equality Task Force – Photo: John Riley.

On Thursday, the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus announced it was re-launching the Transgender Equality Task Force to advance and push back against the erosion of transgender rights.

The bipartisan task force, which was first launched during the last Congress, will focus on a number of priorities this session, including the recently reversed Obama-era guidance from the Departments of Education and Justice that had previously allowed transgender students to use facilities that match their gender identity.

As part of that effort to restore pro-transgender guidance, the task force expects to file an amicus brief signed by members of Congress supporting Virginia teenager Gavin Grimm’s lawsuit against the Gloucester County School Board. Grimm sued over his school district’s policy barring him from the boys’ restroom because of his transgender status, alleging that the school board had violated his rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The task force also plans to advocate for greater access to health care and treatment for transgender Americans, fight against attempts at the federal and state level to limit transgender rights or protections, and denounce and combat the violence that targets the transgender community, particularly trans women of color. So far, seven transgender women of color have been killed since the beginning of the year.

“There’s undoubtedly a rocky road ahead: a White House that seems to think that LGBTQ rights are expendable; an Attorney General who doesn’t believe that every citizen merits equal protection, efforts here in Congress and across our nation to distort the very sacred promise of religious freedom into a vehicle for intolerance and discrimination,” U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), the newly appointed chairman of the Transgender Equality Task Force, said in a press conference.

“That makes our efforts, the efforts of this task force, more critical than ever. Because make no mistake: a threat to any civil right is a threat to all civil rights,” he added. “So we will fight back against injustice, an Education Department that turns a blind eye to discrimination. We’ll fight back against a health care system that treats transgender Americans like second-class citizens. We’ll fight back against our own colleagues, members of Congress, who threaten to undermine religious liberty in this country by using it to support state-sanctioned discrimination.”

The members of the task force are: Kennedy, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.).

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also showed up at Thursday’s press conference to express their support for the task force.

“When the president did his heartbreaking thing last week, I thought, ‘Does he even know what he’s doing?'” Pelosi said of the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the Obama guidance. “It’s really a blow to transgender children in our schools, a struggling group of LGBT young people who are most at risk. … Transgender students have the same rights to a safe environment in schools and in their community, just as everyone else. This is a matter of fundamental justice.”

Several major LGBTQ groups were in attendance and showed their support for the task force. But they also took the opportunity to blast the Trump administration for what they see as a hostility or indifference to the concerns of the transgender community.

“Following the rescinding of life-saving guidance last week by the Trump administration, many transgender young people woke up the next day worried about their future, and wondering whether the heart of this country is big enough to love them, too,” said Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign. “And while no single act by a president can fully rescind the protections afforded to transgender people, there is no doubt that this single action will foster bullying in classrooms and state legislatures.”

Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, noted that her organization had sent letters over the past two weeks to the White House, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, sharing more than 4,500 stories of transgender people in order to explain the obstacles that hinder them from achieving their full potential. So far, NCTE has received no response from the Trump administration.

“I just want to say that this is our country, too,” said Keisling. “This is our country, and I demand a president who is an adult. I demand a president who thinks through things. I demand a president who makes decisions carefully, and after talking to the people they affect.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com