House lawmakers create new transgender equality task force

WASHINGTON — A group of lawmakers kicked off a new congressional task force for transgender rights on Tuesday with the first-ever congressional forum on transgender life in the U.S.

The LGBT Equality Caucus announced the creation of the Transgender Equality Task Force last week. It is chaired by Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif), and other members including 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.).

At the forum, leaders in the movement for transgender rights testified on how discrimination, violence and policing affect the transgender community.

Joanna Cifredo, who is on the board of directors for Whitman-Walker Health, pointed to a recent survey in which only 22 percent of respondents said they knew a transgender person. This “limited exposure” to trans people makes it easier for negative attitudes about the community to persist, she said.

Many of the panelists brought up education as an important tool to help people accept transgender people from a young age.

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

Catherine Hyde, Trans Parents Forum Facilitator for the PFLAG chapter in Columbia-Howard County, Maryland, talked about her personal experience as the parent of a transgender child.

“When you parent a transgender child, the fear for their physical and emotional safety is a constant anxiety,” she said. “We need comprehensive legislation to protect our children.”

Protections for transgender people must involve an increase in education in law enforcement, and for them to foster a relationship with the transgender community, Irene Burks, a police commander in Prince Georges County, said.

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

A core problem, she said, is the fact that there is no national database to track violence against transgender people. And creating that database, she said, would give law enforcement a resource where they can keep track of those incidents and the nation a more accurate idea of how often violence is committed.

Meanwhile, more resources must be made available to transgender people fighting problems with housing and employment, said Isa Noyola, program manager at the Transgender Law Center.

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