U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III heads the Transgender Equality Task Force (via WikiMedia cc: public domain)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The LGBTQ community has gained a powerful ally in the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy. Thirty-six-year-old Rep. Joe Kennedy III is now serving as chair of Congress’ recently re-launched Transgender Equality Task Force, and began his reign with a bold statement. Kennedy stood up in front of a crowd and read the names of all seven transgender women murdered so far in 2017.

Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, Mesha Caldwell, JoJo Striker, Tiara Richmond, Chyna Doll Dupree, Ciara McElveen and Jaquarrius Holland are all transgender women who have been killed since the start of the new year. Kennedy read these names somberly, and pledged his support for the population they represent.

“We’ll fight back against a scourge of hate-based and hate-inspired violence that plagues the transgender community every single day, particularly transgender women of color,” declared the congressman. “We’ll fight back against a health care system that treats transgender Americans as second-class citizens. We’ll fight back against our own colleagues, members of Congress that try to undermine religious liberty in this country by using it to support state-sanctioned discrimination.”

The task force that Kennedy will lead has three key priorities: public safety and violence against transgender people, health care access and inequality, and education and school environments.

The latter focus comes just after the Trump Justice and Education Departments rescinded the previous administration’s guidance to protect transgender students in public schools. LGBTQ advocates were askance at the order, which seems to negate the new President’s promise to fight for LGBTQ rights. Kennedy addressed the issue in his speech.

“No matter the opposition, no matter the setbacks, no matter who occupies the Oval Office, we see you, we hear you and we are with you,” Kennedy said. “A threat to any civil right is a threat to all civil rights.”

“We thank the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, the Trans Equality Task Force, and Congressman Kennedy for their unwavering commitment to trans equality,” said HRC National Press Secretary Sarah McBride. “Amidst rising violence against trans women of color and the disgraceful decision by the Trump Administration to undermine vital protections, we need to send a clear message to transgender people across this country that they matter and that there millions of people – including many walking the halls of Congress – who are fighting every day to ensure that they are treated with the dignity and fairness that every person deserves.”

The task force’s other members are Mike Quigley (IL-05), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), Raul Grijalva (AZ-3), Jackie Speier (CA-14), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12). Most are Democrats, except for Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican with a transgender son. Rep. Quigley had a statement:

“Members of the LGBT community have the same rights and deserve the same opportunities as any other American; and despite the Trump Administration’s recent attack against transgender students, we will fight to guarantee they have the chance to learn and thrive.”