Ben worked in my office for the entirety of his year-long fellowship with the Equality Caucus. We asked a lot of him while he was here: Congress has had very few openly trans staffers in its history, and it was enormously helpful being able to call on Ben for his perspective as we worked on legislation to promote LGBT equality. For questions ranging from the proper use of the terms “gender” and “transgender” to the biggest obstacles facing transgender students in schools, we relied on Ben for his perspective.
But for all the help he provided, this reflection on Ben’s time here shows how inadequate it was that so much of the burden of representing trans voices within Congress fell to him. Certainly, there are several other ways for members of Congress to seek the input of the trans community. We can turn to advocates like Mara Keisling and Diego Sanchez (himself a former Hill staffer) who are devoting their lives to LGBT equality. We can draw on the experiences of our friends and families: for instance, Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), a tremendous ally of the LGBT community, has spoken openly about his transgender granddaughter, while Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), another leader in the fight for full equality, talked at length about her transgender son in a must-watch video.
Still, as Ben said, the presence of allies here in Congress is no substitute for full representation for transgender Americans. I have no doubt that it will someday be commonplace rather than remarkable to see transgender Americans on the congressional payroll. Hopefully, for the sake of the equality movement, that day will be soon.