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Fight for transgender rights plants its flag on Capitol Hill

Marjorie Taylor Greene hangs anti-transgender sign outside her office, after a neighbor with a transgender child places a transgender flag outside hers.

Posted: Feb 28, 2021 4:00 PM
Updated: Feb 28, 2021 4:00 PM

This week illustrated how far the US has come in the battle for transgender rights and representation -- and how far the country still has to go.

On Thursday, the House passed the Equality Act for the first time since Democrats secured both chambers of Congress.

It's unclear if the Equality Act has any path in the Senate. But that uncertainty doesn't diminish the bill's significance. The Equality Act would expand the 1964 Civil Rights Act and prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and other services as well as in access to public accommodations.

Crucially, the bill would largely trump "religious liberty" arguments, a point that has led many Republicans to chafe at what they see as a lack of exemptions for discrimination based on someone's religious beliefs.

Transgender community advocates have long championed the legislation and see its passage as essential.

"The #EqualityAct is constituent service," tweeted Virginia Del. Danica Roem, a Democrat who's one of the country's first out transgender lawmakers. "Pass it."

Also on Thursday, a Senate panel considered the nomination of Dr. Rachel Levine, President Joe Biden's choice for assistant health secretary.

If approved, Levine would be the first out transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate.

Those events on Thursday were momentous. But this week also offered several reminders that, in obvious ways, anti-transgender bigotry in the US endures.

On Wednesday, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia was roundly rebuked after she posted an anti-transgender sign outside her office, across the hall from Rep. Marie Newman, an Illinois Democrat who has a transgender daughter.

A supporter of conspiracy theories, Greene has a history of making anti-transgender, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic remarks. Earlier in February, the House voted to remove her from her committee assignments.

Before Greene posted her sign, Newman shared a video on social media of herself planting a transgender pride flag in the hallway across from Greene's office, following the Georgia Republican's excoriation of the Equality Act on the House floor.

"It was a statement I felt very necessary. ... I felt as though she needed to hear from us," the Democratic congresswoman told CNN's Alisyn Camerota on "New Day," when asked about the flag.

Newman continued: "You know, I'm immensely proud of my daughter, and that's all anyone is asking for, is to be treated as anyone else, and that's what I want Rep. Greene to see."

It wasn't just Greene who voted against the Equality Act on Thursday. In 2019, eight House Republicans supported the Equality Act; only three GOP members did this time around. It's also worth pointing out that Republican Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart of Florida and Elise Stefanik of New York voted for the Equality Act in 2019 but not on Thursday.

(Reps. Greg Walden, Susan Brooks and Will Hurd -- the three other Republicans who backed the Equality Act in 2019 -- no longer serve in Congress.)

And during Levine's Senate confirmation hearing, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky used the occasion not to explore the former Pennsylvania health secretary's qualifications but to elevate anti-transgender misinformation about, among other things, "genital mutilation."

"Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed," Levine explained to Paul.

"If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as the assistant secretary of health, I will look forward to working with you and your office and coming to your office and discussing the particulars of the standards of care for transgender medicine," she added.

All told, the dominant mood this week was guarded optimism. Transgender Americans are making strides in the fight for their rights. At the same time, there are those ready to keep equality just beyond reach.

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