Last Tuesday marked an important, if underreported, milestone for transgender rights in this country, as Congress’s LGBT Equality Caucus announced it has formed a new Transgender Equality Task Force to promote transgender rights. According to pbs.org, the task force was announced at the same time the Caucus held the “first-ever congressional forum on transgender life in the U.S.”
Chaired by representative Mike Honda (D-Calif), the task force membership includes the following congressional Democrats: Mike Quigley (Ill.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Joe Kennedy (Mass), Bonnie Watson (N.J.), and Jackie Speier (Calif). The lone Republican representative on the task force is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.
“The purpose of the task force is to analyze the challenges and barriers, and figure out what the government’s role is in making life easier for transgenders,” according to Roddy Flynn, the executive director of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. “We need much more data about these barriers to the American dream.”
The forum itself provided an unprecedented platform for transgender rights activists to have their voices heard. As pbs.org reported, “leaders in the movement for transgender rights testified on how discrimination, violence and policing affect the transgender community.”
The forum also addressed how the movement suffers from the limited exposure many Americans have had to transgender people. One of the speakers, Joanna Cifredo, a board member for Whitman-Walker Health, pointed to a recent survey in which only 22 percent of respondents said they knew a transgender person,” emphasizing that such isolation of transgender persons exacerbates discrimination against them.
Simply put, transgender people are too often left out of public conversations regarding equality, and the forum was a small but significant step in reversing that reality. “We all celebrate the great strides we’ve made in recent years in the LGBT rights movement, but too many times, the `T’ in LGBT has been an afterthought,” task force member Rep. Jared Polis said after the forum.
Ironically, the forum and the formation of this important task force seems to have been treated as an afterthought on the LGBT Equality Caucus website. A quick search of the site yields no information about either the forum or the task force. Moreover, the fact that this groundbreaking forum received scant attention from the national media exemplifies the need for a congressional task force to illuminate transgender issues.
Still, Tuesday’s forum signifies an important shift in raising national awareness of transgender issues. Now, if only the LGBT Equality Caucus would report about its own achievement on its website.