The group, formally known as the Transgender Equality Task Force, is an off-shoot of the LGBT Equality Caucus and seeks to examine barriers faced by the transgender community and design legislation on their behalf.
Lawmakers announced the creation of the task force during a news conference on Capitol Hill amid a record number this year of at least 21 transgender murders throughout the country. A congressional forum led by the task force was planned later in the day to address the violence.
Chairing the task force is Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who has a transgender granddaughter, Melissa, and said, “This is not a responsibility I take lightly.”
“The purpose of this is to let people know that the families, the youngsters and the youth that are in these families, face a very, very unique situation and it must be taken with the utmost care and love,” Honda said.
In addition to leading the task force, Honda said he intends to introduce a resolution in the U.S. House designating November as Transgender Acceptance Month.
The members of the Transgender Equality Task Force, in addition to Honda, are Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).
Noting many victims of anti-trans violence are women of color, Norton said at the news conference she said doesn’t understand why that group is so afflicted.
“Prejudice in whatever form retreats when the group itself and their allies step forward,” Norton said.
Kennedy said in home state of Massachusetts “even we are struggling” to afford basic protections to transgender people, alluding to efforts in the state legislature to pass non-discrimination legislation on the basis of gender identity for public accommodations.
Quigley said at the news conference “poverty and homelessness” are contributing to conditions making transgender people at risk of violence.
Also among the speakers was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who said the spate of murders this year represents an “epidemic” of violence against transgender people and drew attention to comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation known as the Equality Act.
“In 2015, transgender Americans can still be denied housing, employment and access to public services,” Pelosi added. “We must defeat the unconscionable silence and unforgivable inaction that allow injustice against transgender Americans to endure. We must continue to dismantle, brick by brick, the discrimination undermining our democracy.”
Members of the LGBT Equality Caucus were also present at the kick-off event for the task force: gay Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) Jared Polis (D-Calif.) and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.).
Polis, the most senior openly gay member of the U.S. House, said the task force is necessary because despite the progress seen on LGBT rights “too many times the T is forgotten.”
“In 2015 alone, at least 21 trans women have been murdered,” Polis said. “And if you compare the amount of attention from the media paid to those people versus the amount of attention, say, to a particular county clerk in Kentucky, it’s paints a picture about why we need the effort of this task force to raise awareness of transgender issues.”
Also present at the news conference were transgender advocates who commended lawmakers for forming the task force.
Among them was Diego Sanchez, director of policy for PFLAG, who told his personal story about being transgender, saying he was “frightened” when he came out to his parents at age 5 and later security at work was at times “hard to find.”
“Now is the time for us, we who are trans, to be affirmed in our humanity, and recognized as a part of ‘we the people,’ inclusive of our beautiful diversity, and these Members of Congress creating the Transgender Equality Task Force is an exciting, promising step towards getting us closer to that goal sooner,” Sanchez said. “I urge everyone to support their work to help trans and gender expansive people be equal, especially for the sake of our youth who someday might need to tell their parents something.”
Representing the National Center for Transgender Equality was policy director Harper Jean Tobin, who said 2015 was “paradoxical” because of unprecedented trans visibility and record anti-trans violence.
Human Rights Campaign Chad Griffin was at the event and introduced as his organization’s representative Laya Monarez, a D.C.-based transgender artist and activist.
“We’re so much more than just an obituary or a headline,” Monarez said. “I’m an educator, an artist, a muralist, I’m an a roller-derby player and fan, I’m a daughter, an aunt, a follower of Christ, and, yes, I too, [stand the risk] of being killed simply because of who I am.”
At the conclusion of the conference, Roddy Flynn, executive director of the LGBT Equality Caucus, said the Transgender Equality Task Force has no Republican members.
But shortly afterward, Ros-Lehtinen, who recently highlighted her relationship with her transgender son, Rigo, during an interview on Telemundo, announced she would be a member in a statement.
“I’m pleased to see the formation of this important task force that seeks to educate Members of Congress and all of our communities on the values of acceptance, love and harmony for families who have transgender children, as Dexter and I have,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “We are proud of the valuable work that our son Rigo is doing to guide our nation on this sometimes difficult journey.”