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House Democrats Introduce Transgender Bill of Rights

Congressman David Cicilline, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and Congressman Ritchie Torres

The prominent Democratic members of Congress say it's time to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans, particularly of transgender people.

From left: U.S. Reps. Ritchie Torres, David Cicilline, and Pramila Jayapal

Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday announced a resolution that would codify federal protections for transgender people.

The lawmakers are calling the proposal the Transgender Bill of Rights. It would protect employees from gender discrimination by codifying the Supreme Court's Bostock v. Clayton County decision in 2020. The couer ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It would also ensure that transgender and nonbinary people are not discriminated against or persecuted for their gender identity and expression, providing a comprehensive framework for protecting them. In the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court, Democratic lawmakers say, not only gutted many people's right to choose abortion but also appears poised to attack other constitutional rights that have been hard-earned.

The Transgender Bill of Rights would amend the Civil Rights Act to include the protection of gender identity and characteristics of sex, the prohibition of conversion therapy, and the expansion of gender-affirming health care services. As part of the proposal, the attorney general would be required to appoint a liaison to ensure that transgender people's civil rights are protected and that community services are provided to prevent violence against them.

With other prominent colleagues in Congress, Washington U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the senior whip of the Democratic Caucus and chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is leading the fight. She also serves as a member of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. Jayapal introduced the proposal with Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Marie Newman of Illinois, Mark Takano of California, and Ritchie Torres of New York. The Transgender Bill of Rights has more than 80 cosponsors.

In an interview with The Advocate, Jayapal, who has a trans child, discussed the importance of Democrats standing with the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender young people.

"When you look at the hundreds of bills that have been introduced in state legislatures targeting trans folks, when you look at the criminalization of parents of trans kids just to be able to provide support to our kids and provide gender-affirming care," she said, "this feels like a very important moment to stand up and say, 'No, we are not going to just stand by and allow these attacks to happen.'"

For transgender people across the country to achieve equality and opportunity, Jayapal believes a comprehensive roadmap is necessary.

She says the Repuyblican Part's efforts to target LGBTQ+ kids and single out transgender children are clearly meant to harm the kids they claim they want to protect.

"There's tremendous hypocrisy in what republicans are saying on multiple levels," Jayapal said. "They're saying they care about children and are pro-family and even pro-life. But on multiple levels, they have shown that they are not.

"They don't vote for child care; they want to overturn contraception access; they want to traumatize children just for being who they are," the congresswoman said. "There really is a deep trauma to a child who is not allowed to be who they are and who is told that their behavior is deviant or criminal or somehow not what they should be feeling. That is not the way to be supportive to our children."

Cicilline, a gay man, told The Advocate he believes Republicans are using LGBTQ+ children to score political points without regard for the harm they are doing to them.

"This is a really important opportunity not only to condemn these efforts but also put forward a vision of what equality really looks like and to call on the government to explicitly prohibit gender identity discrimination in key areas of life," he said.

He described attending a roundtable discussion last week during which he heard from transgender and nonbinary children and their parents affected by state laws prohibiting gender-affirming care and identity discussions for children.

"These [stories] were so heartbreaking. We had a mom from Arkansas who literally became a refugee in her own country and moved to D.C. because she was afraid that she wouldn't be able to access gender-affirming care for her child."

Florida's "don't say gay" law, which goes into effect Friday, negatively affects a Florida mom's son's ability to concentrate, Cicilline added.

In January 2021, Torres, another cosponsor of the proposal, became one of the two first Black LGBTQ+ members of Congress.(with fellow New Yorker Mondaire Jones). He warned that LGBTQ+ Americans are being attacked by right-wingers.

"The Republican Party has been waging a ruthless campaign of naked fearmongering and scapegoating against the trans community to an extent never seen before in recent memory," Torres said. "The right-wing crusade against the trans community is not only dangerous -- it's deadly. Combating transphobia with the fierce urgency of now is a matter of life and death."

Torres added, "It is more critical than ever that we stand behind transgender Americans not with mere words but with a concrete legislative agenda."

Jayapal and Cicilline agreed that even though the federal legislative process can be slow, Americans can now take steps to protect all their rights.

"There is work going on at the state and local level both to support and protect trans folks and LGBT folks," Jayapal said. "There are multiple opportunities to get involved in pushing back on state legislatures that are trying to pass [anti-LGBTQ+] bills, or pushing state legislatures to codify rights if they aren't already."

One step the Senate can take to protect Americans' rights is to eliminate the filibuster, says Jayapal. Under the filibuster rule, it takes the votes of 60 senators to end debate on a bill and move to a vote on the bill itself.

"If we only had a 51-vote threshold, we would have the Equality Act in law," she said, as the sweeping LGBTQ+ civil rights bill has been passed by the House but stalled in the Senate. Jayapal pointed out that the path to success requires just two more elected Democrats in Senate seats, who would vote to do away with the filibuster.

As the midterm election nears, Cicilline has a message for LGBTQ+ voters.

"Members of our community should make sure that before they vote for anyone, they have confidence that that person is committed to our fight for full equality," Cicilline said.

He noted that a commitment to supporting the Equality Act should be a litmus test for LGBTQ+ voters.

"We shouldn't vote for anyone who doesn't support our fight for full equality," he said.

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