The anti-trans policies of the Trump administration were a key focus Wednesday at a Capitol Hill news conference hosted by Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.), who deplored anti-trans violence in recognition of the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Kennedy, chair of the congressional Transgender Task Force, said at the beginning of news conference 30 transgender people were killed in the United States in 2019 and 331 internationally, citing a newly recently report from Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide.
“We must be explicit about who we recognize, and who we mourn,” Kennedy said.
On the same day as the news conference, Kennedy introduced in the U.S. House a resolution recognizing the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Kennedy identified a general system failing transgender people as among the things to mourn on this occasion, but also pointed to the anti-trans policies of the Trump administration.
“We mourn an administration that has made a disgusting habit to demean and devalue trans Americans from the classroom to the boardroom, from the battlefield to the hospital to those who chose violence motivated by hatred, bigotry and ignorance,” Kennedy said.
Among other things, the Trump administration has banned transgender people from enlisting into the armed forces and gutted regulations prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in health care and homeless shelters.
House Democratic Vice-Chair Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) took the Trump administration to task in particular for the proposed rule change within the Department of Housing & Urban Development rolling back protections for transgender people at homeless shelters.
“A significant number of transgender individuals experience homelessness and are sexually assaulted during their stay at a shelter,” Clark said. “Rather than put in place additional protections, the Trump administration has dismantled the Equal Access Rule, which is meant to ensure transgender individuals have a safe place to seek refuge.”
Asked by the Blade whether Trump himself is responsible for anti-trans violence, Kennedy affirmed a connection between his policies and violent acts.
“I think it’s impossible to divorce the lack of protections coming out from the highest office in our land with the elevated rates of violence, and to not draw that connection,” Kennedy said.
Also speaking at the news conference was Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who spoke in solidarity with transgender people.
“The levels of violence at this point that are directed agents the transgender community throughout our nation is unconscionable, is un-American, is unacceptable,” Jeffries said.
In attendance at the news conference was Toni-Michelle Williams, the new executive director of the Solutions NOT Punishment Collaborative, which seeks to improve the lives of black Americans.
Pointing out much of anti-trans violence is committed by black hands against black people, Williams asked Jeffries what he’d tell his black son. The New York lawmaker called it “an important question.”
Jeffries said he has two sons who are both teenagers, grew up in tolerant communities and have family members belonging to different religion, races, sexual orientation and genders.
“I think we can all do a better job within the African-American community and beyond to understand the value and the humanity, the soulfulness of every single human being regardless of not just race and gender obviously, or religion, or regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Jeffries added.
A guest at the news conference was Angelic Ross, a transgender woman and actor who’s appeared on “Pose” and “American Horror Story.”
“I may be a face, I may have some privilege, but not everyone in our community has access to the same opportunities and privileges, and it needs to be always at the first and foremost of our minds when we talk homeless, health care, we’re talking about employment,” Ross said.
As the U.S. Supreme Court considers lawsuit seeking clarification on whether LGBT people have protection under federal civil rights law, Ross pointed out the Trump administration has argued transgender people should be excluded from them.
Ross, however, interjected amid the questioning to say Trump shouldn’t the sole focus in terms challenges facing transgender people.
“To the question about is Trump responsible for a lot of the anti-trans and homophobic rhetoric? No,” Ross said. “Is he helping to bring of it the surface? Yes.”
Ross said too much focus on Trump would make into a “scapegoat” when there are other issues at play.
“There’s a lot of well-meaning people who have supported Trump along the way, whether they know it or not, in policy…and through action, so I think the time for people look at Trump’s administration as a reflection,” Ross said. “This is not about Trump. This is about us as Americans. Who are you in the time of the Trump administration and what will you allow, and what will stand up for?”
In 2009, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which make hate crimes against LGBTQ against federal law.
Asked by the Blade whether the law and enforcement of it is adequate, Kennedy expressed an openness to change and brought up legislation he introduced in the U.S. House prohibiting the use of anti-LGBT panic as a defense in federal courts.
In more than 40 states, Kennedy said, and in the federal government, using the gay or trans panic is still an accepted plea when charged in the courts with committing an act of anti-LGBT violence.
“So because of who you are, if I happen to attack you, if somebody happens to commit a violent act, it justifies that violence, which is literally the definition of a hate crime, so there’s far more that our country can do,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy held the news conference as he’s challenging Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) in a Democratic for his seat representing Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate. The primary date is Sept. 15, 2020.
Asked by the Blade whether Markey is doing enough on the issue, Markey declined to criticize the senator and instead issued a general call to action.
“I think Sen. Markey has been a strong champion on this issue,” Kennedy said. “I think he’s a got a record of support of here, and I think many of us do. The fact is that we have to be able to do more, have to be doing more.”