Yesterday, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee Task Force on Executive Overreach came to the defense of transgender students during a Task Force hearing on regulatory overreach. During his opening remarks, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) described the Department of Educations’ recent Title IX guidance on transgender students as an “egregious example” of regulatory overreach, setting the tone for the hearing.
These comments were later followed by the testimony of Gail Heriot. In her submitted testimony, Heriot stated that “We are teaching young people a terrible lesson. If I believe that I am a Russian princess, that doesn’t make me a Russian princess, even if my friends and acquaintances are willing to indulge my fantasy. Nor am I a Great Horned Owl just because—as I have been told—I happen to share some personality traits with those feathered creatures.” While Republican members of the task force did not challenge Heriot’s ignorant views (and in fact, Representative King quoted her testimony in his opening remarks), Democrats made clear their opposition to Heriot’s testimony.
Both Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY) shared expert views that Heriot’s dismissal of transgender student’s identity dangerously ignores the high rates of discrimination and sexual violence transgender students face in schools. During the following exchange with Heriot, Representative Nadler cited the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision which affirmed the Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX of the Education Act of 1972 as protecting transgender students from discrimination, including allowing them to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity.
Later, Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) explained that she found the guidance to be very reasonable. She then stated that she found it “very regrettable” that Heriot’s testimony was put in the record, and during a heated exchange, Representative Lofgren made it clear that she would not let Heriot’s testimony go unchallenged. Representative Lofgren shared that she found Heriot’s testimony to be offensive and that it was clear from her testimony that Heriot did not know anything about transgender people and has probably never met a transgender child who is coming to terms with their gender identity.
Although the hearing was not well-attended, this may have been for the best. Other task force members include Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) who described PayPal’s decision not to invest in North Carolina because of their anti-transgender law “the height of lunacy” and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) who said there is “no need” for the Department of Education’s guidance.
Although Republicans on the Task Force refused to speak out—and at times encouraged—Heriot’s remarks, it clearly did not have to be this way. The past couple of weeks have highlighted the strong bipartisan support for LGBT equality. Just last week, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) stated that “allowing students to use the bathroom of their authentic selves is a step forward in stopping the stigma around transgender individuals.” Meanwhile, Representatives Charlie Dent (R-PA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Richard Hanna (R-NY), and Mike Coffman (R-CO), along with Representative Ros-Lehtinen, sponsored a bipartisan amendment to strip anti-LGBT language from the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The day after the amendment was prevented from being debated and voted on, twenty-nine Republicans joined 183 democrats in voting for a LGBT non-discrimination amendment on a different bill in the House.
LGBT rights are clearly a bipartisan issue and it is a shame that no Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee Task Force on Executive Overreach were willing to stand up for trans rights and trans youth at yesterday’s hearing.