The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has acted as the “conscience of the Congress” since its inception in 1971, taking up causes on behalf of marginalized and vulnerable communities and advocating for equal rights along the lines of race, gender, religion and economic background.
Now, it seems the caucus will add the transgender community to its roster of constituents in need of support, considering the scrutiny their rights have recently received on the national agenda.
In August, President Donald Trump signed a directive to the U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security reinstating a longtime ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military, which had only been lifted last June.
The action followed a series of July tweets in which Trump said the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption” of having transgender people in the military, and pledged to ban their service in the armed forces.
Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.) called the ban “a prime example of discrimination continuing to make our country weaker.”
Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) called the policy change “mean” and “misguided.”
“I have fought too long and hard to end discrimination based on race and color to allow discrimination based on gender identity to be considered acceptable,” Lewis said. “There is no place in our society for hate or bigotry. To punish any person based on their sexual orientation or gender identity is a shame and a disgrace, but to penalize those who pledge to serve and protect our country is unconscionable.”
Members of the CBC expressed concern for the state of civil rights under the Trump administration early on in his presidency.
They invited Gavin Grimm, a transgender youth and the lead plaintiff in an ACLU-spearheaded lawsuit against his Virginia school board for a bathroom policy that segregated transgender students from their peers, to speak in a forum regarding the protection of civil rights under the Trump administration in the days leading to his 100th day of presidency.
“This case will not be resolved until after I graduate, but this fight is bigger than me,” Gavin said.
He said the case was about protecting the rights of transgender youth, current and future, and their families.
In February, Trump overturned Obama-era protections that allowed transgender students to use the bathrooms of their gender identity — with youth like Gavin becoming entangled in the shift of policy.
In 2015, a National Center for Transgender Equality conducted survey found that 77 percent of transgender respondents experienced some form of mistreatment such as verbal harassment, physical or sexual assault between kindergarten and grade 12 and that 40 percent attempted suicide in their lifetime.
Nearly half of all respondents had been verbally assaulted for being transgender in the past year.
The study also noted other challenges transgender people face including economic disparities, where about 30 percent of transgender respondents lived in poverty compared to 14 percent of the general population; and a disproportionate rate of homelessness, unemployment and harassment.
“Trump defends white nationalists, demeans women, pals around with Russians and attacks people of color and the LGBT community. He is deplorable,” tweeted Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA).
A string of events has fueled the transgender community’s ongoing innocuous relationship with the Trump administration.
In July, just hours after Trump announced his plan to reverse a year-old Obama-era policy which lifted the ban on transgender people from the military on Twitter, the U.S. Department of Justice argued in a private employment lawsuit that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ban on sex discrimination does not protect workers on the basis of their sexual orientation.
That same day, Trump also announced that he would nominate a vocal opponent of gay rights, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, as the nation’s ambassador at-large for international religious freedom.
A few weeks before that, the House rejected an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill which included a proposal to end a Pentagon policy implemented in October that provided gender-reassignment surgeries and other treatment for active-duty transgender service members if a doctor deemed the treatment medically necessary.
“Everyone, including our transgender men and women who bravely serve our country in uniform, deserve our respect and support,” said Congressman Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). “We cannot allow this kind of blatant bigotry to go unchecked in the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who has put a freeze on the ban pending a study, has six months to submit a plan for its implementation.