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Congress Relaunches Transgender Equality Task Force

On Thursday morning, members of Congress stood with transgender community advocates to announce opposition to the Trump administration's stance on trans rights.

Members of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, alongside representatives from national nonprofits, spoke out against the Justice and Education Departments' recent decision to rescind guidance regarding transgender students and announced that they were relaunching a bipartisan task force on trans rights.

“The relaunch of the Transgender Equality Task Force comes at a critical time,” LGBT Equality Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Jared Polis said at a press conference. “While the Trump administration has previously said they will support, or even ‘fight’ for the LGBTQ community, once again their words are contrary to their actions."

Polis was joined by the task force's new chairman, Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III.

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Representative Joseph "Joe" Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Kennedy recalled meeting Massachusetts transgender teen Brandon Adams at the statehouse, where Adams confronted "powerful adults" and "demanded the dignity he deserved." Transgender kids, said Kennedy, "shouldn’t have to battle for the protections that most of us take for granted every day."

Kennedy also had pointed words for the new administration.

"There is undoubtedly rocky road ahead. A White House that seems to think LGBTQ rights are expendable. An Attorney General who doesn’t believe that every citizen merits equal protection," said Kennedy, adding that a transgender task force is "more critical than ever before."

There are currently no members of Congress who are openly transgender, but the Transgender Equality Task Force was initially launched in late 2015 by a coalition of elected officials with a stake in policies affecting the transgender community — including two founding members, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and former Congressman Mike Honda, who respectively have a transgender child and grandchild.

Current members of the task force include congressional representatives Kennedy, Mike Quigley, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Raul Grijalva, Jackie Speier and Bonnie Watson Coleman.

With Jeff Sessions heading the Justice Department and Betsy DeVos helming the Department of Education, LGBTQ advocates are gearing up for a long road ahead.

Roddy Flynn, Executive Director of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, told NBC News that Sessions revealed his priorities when he announced the school guidance would be rescinded on his first official day in office.

"Sessions has a terrible record on LGBT issues, really showing outright animus," Flynn said. "Not just in terms of not voting for things, but it’s pretty clear he doesn’t have a lot of respect for LGBT people and transgender people in particular."

Flynn said the relaunched task force, now in its second consecutive year, is dedicated to "fighting with, not in place of," transgender citizens.

Four out transgender leaders spoke at the Thursday morning press conference in D.C., including Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality, HRC's National Press Secretary Sarah McBride, Victoria Rodriguez-Roldan of the National LGBTQ Task Force and PFLAG's Diego Sanchez — who was the first openly transgender senior staffer on Capitol Hill.

Sanchez thanked the "people who are standing with us who don't have to, whose lives are not at risk," in a moving tribute to the cisgender (or non-transgender) allies working for the rights of the transgender community.

McBride also thanked the members of Congress, who she said showed "unwavering commitment" to fighting for transgender equality. She cited the disproportionately high murder rate affecting transgender women — with seven killed in the first two months of 2017 — and the bullying of gender-nonconforming kids and teens in schools, applauding the task force for standing up for marginalized and vulnerable populations.

“Amidst rising violence against trans women of color and the disgraceful decision by the Trump Administration to undermine vital protections," McBride said, "we need to send a clear message to transgender people across this country that they matter and that there [are] millions of people — including many walking the halls of Congress — who are fighting every day to ensure that they are treated with the dignity and fairness that every person deserves."

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