What Senators Are Saying About Transgender Rights

May 27, 2022
2:19 PM

A trans woman holds the transgender flag and waves the LGBT flag at a Gay Pride parade in San Francisco. (Photo by quinn.anya/CC BY-SA 2.0)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Latino Rebels asked senators this week whether transgender rights come up in conversations with their colleagues and if they themselves know any transgender people.

Twenty-one senators were asked between Monday and Thursday in consultation with transgender reporters and gender-beat reporters who couldn’t make it to the Capitol to ask for themselves.

Republican Sens. Roger Marshall of Kansas and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin are the only senators who told Latino Rebels that they personally do not know any transgender person, though Johnson was quick to point out that he had met with at least one transgender constituent this week.

“I just met with some high school kids and one of them was transgender,” Johnson said. “But do I know anybody personally? I don’t believe so. It’s not something I ask someone right off the bat. I just take people for who they are.”

Caitlyn Jenner was name-dropped by Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as the transgender person they know, with Cruz recalling Jenner’s offer to be his “trans ambassador” during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Transgender rights hardly come up in conversations among senators, according to those asked.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a topline issue,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), “but I think more of my colleagues believe in great latitude on that issue … of people doing what they want to.”

The staff of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) provided Latino Rebels with five ways their boss is working to advance trans rights in the upper chamber of Congress, the most of any senator asked.

Sinema has signed an amicus brief to protect transgender students in public schools, advocated for funding for homeless youth —many of whom are transgender— through the American Rescue Plan, fought amendments by House Republicans to secure transition-related healthcare for military service members, and opposed efforts by the Department of Housing under the Trump administration to undermine transgender access to relief from homelessness.

Sen. Sinema also is an original cosponsor of the Equality Act, legislation introduced in the House by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) that would ensure equal treatment for transgender Americans in housing, employment, health care, jury duty, access to credit, and federal funding by making gender identity one of the prohibited categories of discrimination.

“The Equality Act would provide a measure of protection for LGTBQ+ Americans,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA). “But you also have to do more on the healthcare front as well. Programs that are designed to provide the kind of healthcare that trans Americans need is part of it, but I think just the basic protections that people should have a right to expect should be more nationalized and not be the subject of where you live.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) echoed Sinema and Casey in his support for the Equality Act but added that more must be done to create a safe, nurturing environment for transgender youth.

“There are extraordinarily high rates of suicide” among trans youth, Booker said. “Data shows that having understanding parents or adults helps lower those rates, so creatively we’re just trying to find ways to support and protect them.”

The issue of transgender rights “doesn’t come up as often as it should,” said Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM). “It deserves more attention. Especially with the assault that we’re seeing across the country, there may need to be federal legislation soon to be able to remedy all the hateful policies that we continue to see enacted.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-MD) echoed Luján. “It’s not something I get calls or letters about every day, but it is an issue that matters deeply to me,” said Coons. “I think we should be doing more to provide protections for those who are transgender.”


Pablo Manríquez is the Washington correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports