Transgender Americans have every reason to fear the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
Conservatives stoked transphobia throughout the midterm with narratives about protecting children from a rising tide of queer culture, like drag brunches. As an aside: If you have never been to a drag brunch, go with cash and an open mind, and chances are you’ll have a blast. Everyone does. Or everyone did until the phony excuse to disrupt drag brunches in the name of child safety took hold around the country.
From Jacksonville to Nashville, Texas to North Carolina, drag brunch events have been targeted by right-wing extremists. “Our governor is more focused on weaponizing state law enforcement to crack down on a specific drag show tour that was going on in Florida than he is on gun violence or people being evicted from their homes,” said freshman Florida Democratic Representative Maxwell Frost of the state’s governor, Republican Ron DeSantis. “We know what that’s about. It’s about homophobia and transphobia and building it into our institutions of government.”
“We’re at a point where we have to be defending ourselves, like with weapons,” drag performer Kiba Walker told USA Today last month when armed brunch allies turned up to a drag event at the Anderson Distillery in Roanoke, Texas.
On Capitol Hill, the transfer of power from Democrats to Republicans in the House could come with an opening salvo of transphobic policy items in the rules package being debated this week.
“It’s in the rules package! We’re gonna respect gender again: male and female,” Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene told The New Republic when asked about the new House GOP majority’s agenda on transgender rights. “We’re gonna use pronouns and family names like Nancy Pelosi took it away.”
As House speaker, Pelosi helped pass a rules resolution in January 2021 to “honor all gender identities by changing pronouns and familial relationships in the House rules to be gender neutral.” USA Today reported shortly after the resolution passed that the change only impacted one document in the standing rules of the House. The change included substituting “seamen” with “seafarers,” “chairman” with “chair,” and the words “himself and herself” with “themself.”
Predictably, right-wing media jumped on the small rules change as a belligerent affront to the gender binary that some lawmakers, including Greene and Representative Lauren Boebert, sought to reinforce with actual legislation.
“Let adults do what they want to do, and leave our kids alone,” said Boebert when asked by The New Republic in a hallway interview last week to define her policy aims regarding transgender Americans, implying that Republicans will disguise their radically anti-trans agenda as protecting child safety.
Boebert, along with 47 of her House GOP colleagues, co-sponsored Greene’s Protect Children’s Innocence Act in the last Congress. In stark contrast to its seemingly innocuous name, the bill would prohibit any government facility or physician employed by the government to administer gender-affirming care to anyone, regardless of age. It would also prohibit Congress from authorizing any funds for gender-affirming care, even in the health care plans of government employees, while making it illegal to teach gender-affirming care in U.S. medical schools.
“The targeting of LGBT and trans communities specifically has been extremely concerning,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told The New Republic. “It’s something we’re going to have to figure out and use every opportunity that we have in order to defend these folks.” In 2021, the Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention among queer folk, found that over half of transgender youth had considered suicide in the previous year.
“They can’t do it alone,” said Frost about defending trans people. “It has to be all of us. Like with any marginalized community, you can’t just leave it up to that community. It has to be every single one of us pushing back every single day.”
For some members, the issues of trans justice hit close to home. “My beautiful now-22-year-old child told me last year that they were gender non-conforming,” Representative Pramila Jayapal said as she fought back tears in a 2019 speech. “From a mother’s perspective I came to understand … their newfound freedom to wear a dress, to rid themselves of some conformist stereotype of who they are, to be able to express who they truly are at their real core.”
Last June, Democratic Representatives Jayapal, David Cicilline, Marie Newman, Mark Takano, and Ritchie Torres led a House resolution they called the “Trans Bill of Rights” to protect nonbinary and transgender Americans from discrimination and persecution in the workplace and housing market for their identity and expression. It would also expand access to gender-affirming health care and strengthen the Justice Department’s ability to enforce trans civil rights.
The new House GOP majority will almost surely take the human rights efforts by Democrats during the last Congress in the opposite direction. Already in the House rules package, there is a provision that would “ensure that nothing prevents Members from using gender-specific language in committee or on the House floor.”
Once the House GOP caucus passes a rules package, expect the battle against inclusive language to expand into an all-out policy assault on gender-affirming care couched in the brazen non sequitur of child safety. Trans folks can take comfort in the fact that the Democratic Senate and White House will serve as a bulwark against most of these House bills becoming law. The bad news is that the 118th Congress could become a policy laboratory for transphobia that could be fast-tracked by future GOP presidents and majorities.