As trans rights are under assault nationwide, NMAC, one of the nation’s leading LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, held an emergency roundtable on Capitol Hill with members of Congress and policy experts to call for urgent action to protect health equity for transgender Americans on Thursday. Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee, Mark Takano, and Sara Jacobs of California attended and spoke to a packed briefing room.
The director of the National Coalition for Justice and Equality Across Movements at NMAC, Toni Newman, welcomed those in attendance and praised the congressional support for the roundtable.
“Regardless of your race, sex, and gender, you deserve health equity,” Newman said in her opening remarks. “This is why we have brought everyone here, and we thank you for coming today to discuss these very important issues and concerns in the seat of American political power here in the [Rayburn] House building. We hope that this conversation will open minds, educate and enlighten individuals who are listening to a false narrative about transgender Americans.”
Lee laid out the stakes in the current Congress.
“I’ve spent my entire life fighting for justice and for the trans community, for the LGBTQ+ community, for rights and justice and equity,” Lee said. “The growing threats against the trans community [and] LGBTQ community, they’re unconscionable.”
She added, “These bills that are anti-trans coming forward now in every committee — as a member of the Appropriations Committee this year — has just been horrendous to hear the debate of some of the MAGA extremist Republicans who really don’t even care in terms of what they say about the transgender community.”
Fan Liang, assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins and medical director at the Center for Transgender and Gender Expansive Health, explained that she could speak for hours to explain and disambiguate what gender-affirming care is and what it isn’t. She put the debate into perspective.
“If you or a loved one need a pacemaker, and what if you were being told that there was sweeping legislation across the country that was going to prevent you having access to this lifesaving intervention, how would you feel? How would your loved ones feel? How would you go about planning your life, and how would you react?” she asked. “This is the exact scenario that the transgender and nonbinary population is facing at this very moment.”
Jacobs, whose brother is trans and who has a gender-nonconforming sibling, said it’s been challenging to hear her GOP colleagues attack trans people in funding bills recently.
“I sit on the House Armed Services Committee, and it was really disheartening to me that this year, instead of debating real issues and working towards ensuring our national security in the National Defense Authorization Act, my colleagues used that time to ban gender-affirming care, drag shows, and Pride flags, and to demean the trans community in how they were talking about [them].”
She added, “These things actually are going to hurt our military recruitment and our national security when what we were supposed to be doing was figuring out how to improve our national security. So clearly, we all have a lot of work to do to change the trajectory that we’re on to fight back against these horrible policies. And honestly, I think a big part of our work is naming the bigotry for what it is but then using our platforms to educate people, educate my colleagues, all of our colleagues, and also to not forget to celebrate the beauty and strength of the trans community.”
Takano, elected in 2013, is the first gay Asian American in the U.S. Congress. When he first ran for Congress in the 1990s, his Republican opponent outed him, making his sexuality a campaign issue.
Takano’s opponents accused him of having a “homosexual agenda” during that contentious 1994 election. Pink political mailers asked Takano if he could represent Riverside (part of California’s right-leaning Inland Empire region) or whether he’d represent “San Francisco” values once elected.
His story reflects an understanding of representation and allyship.
“I want you to know that I’m committed to having a trans person in Congress because I’m tired of talking about and for trans people,” he said. “We need a trans person in Congress to talk.”