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The civil rights issue of our time

By Michelle Risher, Democratic National Committeemember

It was in October 2012 that then-Vice President Joe Biden described transgender discrimination as the “civil rights issue of our time.”

Nearly nine years have passed, and while Joe Biden is now the President of the United States of America, his call to action remains the same, recently saying: “transgender equality is the civil rights issue of our time. There is no room for compromise when it comes to basic human rights.”

America has an ally and a fighter for transgender equality in the Oval Office, but the attacks from states and other organizations have only intensified. As of June 1st, the Human Rights Campaign reported there has already been more anti-transgender legislation in 2021 than in any other year, including more than 100 different anti-transgender bills from trans-hostile states. Nearly 70 of those would prohibit transgender youth from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity, and at least 35 would prohibit transgender youth from being able to access some form of medical care.

Four years of Trump, the most anti-LGBTQ+ cabinet in recent history, and his illegal Evangelical Advisory Council served to embolden these vicious attacks on the trans community and enshrine a right-wing majority on the Supreme Court that just this month ruled to allow Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia to discriminate against same-sex couples in foster care placement.

In a June Miami Herald op-ed, the Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, wrote of this Republican surge in anti-trans legislation:

“Let’s be clear: This crusade is the product of a coordinated push from conservative faith groups and religious leaders to crush transgender rights…This anti-transgender crusade completely misinterprets the Bible. It also contradicts the most basic of all religious beliefs: that all humans are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.”

In the article, Jones also calls out the rabidly transphobic and so-called “Promise To America’s Children” coalition, an anti-trans analogue to the American Legislative Exchange Council that enables lawmakers in states all across America to introduce similar or in some cases identical discriminatory legislative models in their home states.

It is important to note that these widespread and coordinated attacks against the LGBTQ+ community run counter to the beliefs and ideas of a broad majority of Americans. New polling in March found that 76 percent of adults “favor laws that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations.” Only 19 percent of respondents opposed these protections.

But widespread support for an issue does not bring with it legal protections. That is why this is an urgent moment to pass H.R. 5, the Equality Act. Championed by Oregon’s own Senator Jeff Merkley, it would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. H.R. 5 passed the House in a bipartisan vote in February, but it stands a challenging road in the U.S. Senate without any Republican support, or the support of Senator Joe Manchin.

In Everson v. Board of Education, Supreme Court Associate Justice Hugo Black wrote for the majority that “the First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable.”

If we are to stay true to the vision of our forefathers, so clearly stated by Justice Black, we must push back against attempts to enshrine into law what Rev. Dr. Serene Jones described as “misguided” and “contradictory” beliefs, beliefs that are clearly discriminatory in their intent. There is no better way to do that than for every Democrat in the Senate to not only support the Equality Act, but to ditch the archaic filibuster — a tragic remnant of Jim Crow — still being employed by the racist Republican rabble to disenfranchise voters and LGBTQ+ Americans.

This is truly an existential matter for those of us that are trans. I hope you’ll join me to write and/or call your U.S. Senators, and encourage your friends, family, and colleagues to do the same, and urge them to pass H.R. 5, the Equality Act, so that we can finally address what President Biden has called “the civil rights issue of our time.”

Thank you,

Michelle Risher
Democratic National Committeemember
Democratic Party of Oregon