April 4, 2016 at 1:38 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
New PAC aims to build trans political power
The Trans United Fund seeks to build political power for transgender people. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key with modification)

The Trans United Fund seeks to build political power for transgender people. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key with modification)

As advocates seek to beat back anti-trans measures in state legislatures, a new political action committee has launched seeking to build political power for transgender people.

The committee, called the Trans United Fund, was announced on Monday with the goals of building political leadership for transgender people and endorsing candidates committed to transgender rights.

Hayden Mora, a founding member of the Trans United Fund, said in a statement the creation of the committee is essential at a time when lawmakers across the country debate measures that would impact transgender people.

“The transgender community is no stranger to adversity but what we face today is a new challenge, a coordinated, national and vicious attack from the far right at municipal, school district and legislative levels,” Mora said. “Trans United Fund will fill a crucial gap in our movement, creating a space for transgender people and our allies.”

Trans United Fund, which bills itself as “a bipartisan 501(c)(4) organization,” arrives in the aftermath of enactment of a law in North Carolina that undoes all pro-LGBT city non-discrimination ordinances, including one recently passed in Charlotte, and prohibits transgender people from using public restrooms in schools and government buildings consistent with their gender identity.

Mora told the Washington Blade the committee had been in development for some time because it sought to be “inclusive of many voices,” but is being announced at this time because a consensus was reached on the details and the multitude of anti-trans attacks by lawmakers across the country.

“The mounting and ongoing attacks at the state legislatures, but also at the ballot, municipalities and schools districts really just made us feel like we needed to move and we needed to act now,” Mora said.

In addition to fighting anti-trans attacks in legislatures, Mora said the committee will address other issues impacting the transgender community, such as HIV/AIDS, homelessness, treatment in immigration detention and anti-trans violence.

“We need candidates to understand that being supportive of trans equality begins with supporting non-discrimination but also must proactively address the issues that impact the most vulnerable in our community,” Mora said. “I’m exhausted and profoundly saddened every day I hear about another young trans person that has taken their life because the bullying and discrimination was too much, another trans woman of color murdered senselessly and the myriad other forms of discrimination we face. Education is crucial but so is action, there is simply too much at stake.”

On the agenda for the Trans United Fund this year, according to a statement, is a presidential candidate questionnaire that has been developed and will be distributed to all 2016 presidential hopefuls. Additionally, the committee plans a legislative scorecard program and other efforts related to educating supporters and building transgender political power.

It remains to be seen which candidate Trans United Fund will endorse in the presidential race or which political contenders running for other political offices the group will support.

The committee didn’t announce any endorsements upon its launch, but Mora said the upcoming presidential endorsement will be the first priority, along with establishing a presence in a handful of states.

One state under consideration is North Carolina, where Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed HB 2, is up for re-election, and Attorney General Roy Cooper, who’s challenging him, has refused to defend the law in court. Other potential endorsements are openly trans candidates, like Danni Askini, who’s running for the 43rd legislative district in the Washington State House.

“As the legislative season continues to unfold, as our analysis continues to deepen, and as more and more fantastic champions arrive, we’ll be making those decisions and folks should stay tuned for endorsements,” Mora said.

Mora declined to disclose monetary goals for the Trans United Fund, but said fundraising would be an intensive goal for the next few weeks in addition to “getting our name out there, and building our list and building the depth of Trans United at the state level.”

Bamby Salcedo, executive director of the Trans Latin@ Coalition, said she’s part of the Trans United Fund because “trans people need a strong political voice to support the activism, legal, policy and direct service work already happening.”

“I fight every day to address the consequences of inhuman immigration policies, the disproportionate impact of HIV on our community, violence and disenfranchisement particularly of the most vulnerable in our community — young people, black and brown people, particularly women — and immigrants,” Salcedo said. “We save lives every day but we can’t reach everyone with direct services. We need to move from being primarily reactive to more proactive, going to the root of institutionalized transphobia, and that requires a stronger political voice.”

The 12 members of the Trans United Fund advisory committee include Brynn Tannehill, a Virginia-based trans activist and Navy veteran; Ruby Corado, a D.C-based trans activist who founded the non-profit Casa Ruby; and Monica Roberts, a transgender activist based in Houston.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT group, also has a political action committee and legislative scorecard for candidates. Mora told the Blade efforts like those are crucial, but the Trans United Fund is needed “for trans folks to ensure that we can build our own political power and speak with our voices.”

JoDee Winterhof, the Human Rights Campaign’s senior vice president for policy and political affairs, said the Trans United Fund is a welcome addition to efforts to elect pro-LGBT candidates.

“If we want to have candidates and incumbents who support the LGBT community, we must help elect them,” Winterhof said. “That’s why we first started funding candidates through our PAC decades ago, and we believe the expansion of resources and additional efforts to elect pro-equality candidates is a very positive thing.”

Robert Raben, a gay D.C.-based political consultant and former assistant attorney general under President Bill Clinton, in a statement called the Trans United Fund “the next example of sophistication within this movement.”

“As long as we have a privately raised finance system, participating in it is crucial to achieve the progress we need,” Raben said. “Few in the nation have faced the challenges transgender Americans face; kudos that despite the discrimination, they are still willing to engage in the political process to make this country stronger.”

CORRECTION: An initial version of this article misspelled the name of Danni Askini. The Blade regrets the error.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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