House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) addressed on Thursday the record number of transgender murders this year, saying the violence is “heartbreaking” and “it’s important to listen to the people most affected by it.”
Pelosi made the remarks during her weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol in response to a question from the Washington Blade on what should be done about the spike in anti-trans violence following the recent death of Zella Ziona, whose murder many are counting as the 21st transgender murder in 2015.
“We can pass a law, we can help to break down barriers in people’s minds,” Pelosi said. “Now we have to get to their hearts, but it is heartbreaking to hear of violence against anyone, but the vulnerability of our transgender community.”
The California Democrat referenced the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which she said passed over objections when she was speaker in 2009 with a prohibition against bias-motivated violence based on gender identity.
“At that time, there had been some resistance — I don’t know where — but people would say to me, ‘You can pass this hate crimes bill in a second if you didn’t include transgender,'” Pelosi said. “And I said, ‘Well, I’m never going to pass it in a million years if we don’t include transgender because it’s important for it to be inclusive, and transgender people are probably the most in need of a hate crimes bill.'”
It should be noted Pelosi in 2007 made a different decision with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, bringing to the floor a bill without gender identity protections when former Rep. Barney Frank said only a gay-only version of the legislation would pass the House. Frank and Pelosi later committed to trans-inclusive legislation.
Pelosi said she recently had meetings with the LGBT community — one in Washington State, one in San Francisco — on a number of issues and took note of the introduction in July of the Equality Act, legislation she co-sponsors that would amend federal civil rights laws to include LGBT people.
“We want to listen specifically to the transgender community to hear what some of their suggestions might be as we go forward, as we see this sadness,” Pelosi said. “But we always want to listen to the people who are most affected by it.”
Making the point legislation “macro-ly” should be inclusive, Pelosi added to enforce the law “we have to listen to the community, because they’re, sadly, on the front line of this.”
White House Deputy Principal Press Secretary Eric Schultz echoed the dismay over the recent transgender killings when asked by the Washington Blade about whether the spike in transgender murders amounts to a national crisis.
“I saw the heart-wrenching report out of Baltimore that you mentioned, and I think it’s fair to say that the thoughts and prayers of those of us at the White House are with the family,” Schultz said.
But Schultz said he doesn’t have any new initiative to unveil that would confront the spike in violence at a national level.
“I don’t have sort of new legislative or official reviews to announce today,” Schultz said. “Obviously, the president’s record on this is well-known.”
The officials made the comments one day after Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) made a public a letter seeking answers from the Justice Department and the FBI on reporting and monitoring of transgender murders and the extent to which the federal government is working with local authorities on the issue.
Pelosi endorsed the letter in a response to a follow-up question, saying in response to whether she thinks its contents are a good idea, “Sure. Always. Yes.”
Schultz said he couldn’t respond to the letter directly because he’s not aware of it, but added Obama broadly believes making information public is a good thing.
“I will say generally speaking the president has been very strong in his advocacy in increased transparency and increased data,” Schultz said. “I know that’s something we worked very hard on both at the Justice Department in terms of the law enforcement arena, but also at other areas of the administration. So, generally speaking, the president believes the more information, the better.”