Arizona women press case in Washington for transgender protections

Transgender individuals were in Washington to lobby for passage of the Equality Act, which would amend civil rights laws to cover prohibitions against transgender discrimination. (Photo by Emma Lockhart/Cronkite News)

Erica Keppler, a transgender woman from Phoenix, said individuals like her need the protection of the law and she hopes her lobbying will show people they “have nothing to be concerned about.” (Photo by Emma Lockhart/Cronkite News)

Transgender advocates Friday rallied outside the Capitol after a day spent lobbying members of Congress in support of a Democratic bill that would extend legal protections to transgender people. (Photo by Emma Lockhart/Cronkite News)

Heather Newman, a transgender woman from Flagstaff, said she worries that she could face discrimination at any time in Arizona, which has no statewide law protecting transgender infividuals. (Photo by Emma Lockhart/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Erica Keppler traveled from Phoenix to Washington so she could have her voice heard – the voice of a transgender woman.

“We desperately need protection because our lives are very difficult,” said Keppler. “To live fully as equal members of society, we need some help from government to say you need to play nice with others, you need to respect your fellow citizens.”

She was one of three transgender women from Arizona who joined others from around the country to lobby Friday in Washington for a House bill, the Equality Act, that would extend protections in workplaces and public accommodations to transgender individuals.

Their cause was part of a larger weekend of activism for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights under the umbrella of events celebrating national Pride Month, which included tens of thousands in a March Sunday from the White House to the Capitol.

Friday’s lobbying included face-to-face meetings by transgender individuals to bring their stories to lawmakers. One of those individuals, Heather Newman, a transgender woman from Flagstaff, said she fears discrimination in her everyday life.

“I’m a single parent,” she said. “You know if I were to take my son, he’s a 4-year-old beautiful little boy, if I were to take him to Chuck E. Cheese, we could be turned away because I’m transgender.”

While some cities in Arizona have non-discrimination laws on the books, the state as whole does not, according to the National Center on Transgender Equality. That’s why federal legislation is so important, the Arizona women said, and why they were motivated to come to Washington to lobby.

“I think we gave them a new insight into the Equality Act by sort of personalizing it for them and telling our own stories,” Newman said of the Friday meetings.

The Equality Act, introduced last month in the House, says discrimination can occur “on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition of an individual as well as because of sex-based stereotypes.” It adds “sex, sexual orientation, gender identity” to laws prohibiting discrimination in employment, schooling, public accommodations and other areas.

The bill has 195 co-sponsors – only two of whom are Republicans – including all four Democrats in Arizona’s congressional delegation. The bill has yet to get a hearing in any of the House committees it has been assigned to.

But the Arizona woman said they hope that by sharing their stories they can help break down the stereotypes surrounding the transgender community, and help the bill’s chances.

“I hope that people come to recognize that we are their fellow citizens, their neighbors, their friends, their family in many instances and they have nothing to be concerned about,” Keppler said. “We are a threat to no one.”

-Cronkite News video by Emma Lockhart