Congress Holds First-Ever Transgender Forum

AP PHOTO

Members of Congress — all but one a House Democrat — launched a new congressional task force for transgender rights Tuesday by holding the first-ever congressional forum on transgender life in the U.S.

The Transgender Equality Task Force is chaired by Rep. Mike Honda of California, who held a news conference before the forum, alongside House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Other members include Reps. Mike Quigley of Illinois, Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Joe Kennedy of Massacusetts, Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, Jackie Speier of California, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the last being the only Republican.

Honda has a transgender granddaughter and Ros-Lehtinen’s son is trans

The forum kicked off with two panels in which community leaders and advocates for transgender rights testified about the intersection of discrimination, violence, and policing and how this affect transgender and gender-nonconforming men, women, and children.

Lack of housing and employment were identified as two of the biggest problems facing transgender Americans, reported the PBS NewsHour, and Isa Noyola, program manager at the Transgender Law Center, called for more resources to be made available to transgender people.

“We must require social workers, counselors, medical professionals, case managers, and nonprofit leaders who provide direct services to transgender people to reexamine the ways they are engaging our transgender community,” she said.

Part of the problem, said Joanna Cifredo of Whitman-Walker Health, is that only 22 percent of people responding to a recent survey said they knew a transgender person. “Limited exposure” like this, she said, makes it easier for people to develop negative attitudes about trans people and for them to persist.

The problems, of course, are hardly limited to adults, said panelists. 

“Transgender youth must be protected in school so they have opportunities later in life,” said LaLa Zannell of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

“When you parent a transgender child,” said Catherine Hyde, rrans parents forum facilitator for the PFLAG chapter in Columbia-Howard County, Md., “the fear for their physical and emotional safety is a constant anxiety. We need comprehensive legislation to protect our children.”

Establishing sufficient protections for all transgender people requires an increase in education of law enforcement as well as a building of bridges between officers and the transgender community, said Irene Burks, a police commander in Prince George's County, Md.

“It must be done nationally, and with the support of our congressional leaders,” said Burks.

She bemoaned the absence of a national database to track violence against transgender people, given the epidemic in violence this year: 21 transgender women have been killed since January 1, almost double the number of known victims in 2014. Law enforcement, said Burks, needs a resource to track the increasing number of incidents of violence and to gather a more accurate understanding of violence of this kind.

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