Earlier this month, Nevada Rep. Susie Lee joined Democratic colleagues to introduce a resolution opposing efforts to ban transgender people from serving in the Armed Forces.
It was a response to President Trump’s call to reverse an Obama administration policy that, for the first time ever, allowed trans service members to disclose their identity.
Thursday Lee met with representatives from Gender Justice Nevada, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada and the ACLU of Nevada for a roundtable discussion about attacks on the LGBT community, HIV prevention, sex workers rights and access to health care, and the transgender military ban.
The Supreme Court decided in 5-4 decision in January to allow Trump to implement the ban while challenges still make their way through the courts.
Frankie Perez, who came out as transgender while serving in the United States Air Force, still doesn’t understand the opposition to transgender service. Research has found allowing trans service members has no significant impact on cost or readiness.
“When (my unit) had training in Georgia, we were in tents and had male and female latrines and showers,” he said. “We only had to make small adjustments. There was no need to build a new facility. There was no cost involved. There wasn’t anything extra.”
Perez added that any money spent on hormone therapy has been significantly less than what the military spends on erectile dysfunction medication.
The Trump administration’s actions notwithstanding, Lee is hoping for bipartisan support for other LGBT issues, including increased HIV treatment funding.
To Lee’s surprise, at his State of the Union speech,Trump announced an ambitious goal to end HIV within 10 years. “He hasn’t introduced any legislation yet,” she added. “I’ll be looking out for it.”
Lee added that one of the top issues Democrats have focused on is reining in prescription drug prices, which could overlap in efforts to reduce HIV by making medications more affordable.
Gary Costa, executive director of Golden Rainbow, said a lot of the federal dollars geared toward prevention have gone away. “There is a lack of dollars to educate the new communities of people who weren’t even alive during the 80s and 90s.” he said. “It’s primarily impacted communities of color.”
Echoing Costa, Andre Wade, the state director of the LGBT rights organization Silver State Equality, added there not only needs to be a push to develop an outreach plan specifically for people of color — who are often most vulnerable — but also an effort to recruit people of color to do that outreach. “We know there is a problem,” he said. “We know through years of research there is intervention that works. We need dollars to have them in place.”
As a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor, Lee is also looking at what needs the LGBT community has when it comes to education resources. ”Recently (the Department of Education) has admitted that they’ve refused to respond to civil rights complaints when they are filed by transgender students,” she said.
Like many in the room, Tristan Torres told Lee about experiences being a trans student within Clark County School District. “I’ve had multiple issues,” he said. “It wasn’t necessarily the students that were the biggest problem. It was the faculty.”
Though others talked about some of the issues within the school district — some briefly rehashed recent decisions to develop policies for gender diverse students — none had heard of specific complaints being filed to the Department of Education.
When Lee asked openly what concerns her office was missing, Allie Goard told her to look into issues plaguing sex workers. “They are a marginalized community who need a voice,” she says.
Goard pointed to Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, two federal bills signed into law in 2018, Those opposed to the legislation contended it conflates consensual sex work with human trafficking. Goard added these bills hurts sex workers who relied on online “cam shows” as a way to make money.
“I’m speaking from an intersectionality standpoint,” she added. Trans women who can’t find jobs who used to earn income from cam shows “are now forced out on the street to work,” Goard said, “and that’s why you’re seeing these increased levels of violence, especially with trans women of color.”
While it wasn’t talked about during the roundtable, Lee said in an interview after the meeting that one of the priorities being discussed in the House was legislation to protect LGBT people from employment discrimination.
“I think we are going to move pretty quickly on that,” she added.
Though she didn’t know what traction it would get in the Senate, she hoped people could get behind equality.