You might not expect the first transgender political action committee (PAC) to be bipartisan.
After all, the Republican National Committee’s official platform encourages state legislatures to pass anti-transgender bathroom legislation. Republican lawmakers have also led a recent wave of legislation that specifically targets transgender people, including bills that have become law in North Carolina and Mississippi. And reluctant party favorite Ted Cruz actively participates in the fear-mongering around transgender students using bathrooms and locker rooms.
But Hayden Mora, a founding member of the Trans United Fund (TUF), says that the newly launched PAC will take support wherever it can be found.
“Our vision and our goal is to have a conversation with anyone who is serious about supporting the trans community and supporting trans people,” he told The Daily Beast. “That includes Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and everyone else on the political spectrum.”
In the coming weeks, TUF will be making an endorsement in the presidential race and looking for state and local elections where they can make an impact. The PAC has developed an extensive questionnaire, which will be distributed to the 2016 presidential candidates, asking where they stand on issues that disproportionately affect transgender Americans: legal equality, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, sex work, immigration, and the epidemic of transphobic violence that primarily impacts trans women of color.
“It is an organization that will address the issues facing our community politically from the bottom up,” Bamby Salcedo, executive director of the Trans Latin@ Coalition and TUF Advisory Committee member, told The Daily Beast.
The founders of TUF see the PAC not just as a reaction to the dozens of anti-transgender bills that are under consideration in 16 state legislatures, but also as a proactive opportunity to flex political muscle.
“Right now is a time for us as a trans community to really demonstrate the capabilities that we have,” said Salcedo. “It’s the perfect time for us to organize.”
There are other national advocacy groups focused on transgender issues. The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) has long coordinated with federal, state, and local governments on various policy issues. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Lambda Legal have both been influential in the fight over North Carolina’s recent anti-transgender legislation.
But TUF believes a PAC is the logical next step in the movement for transgender equality. And they will be accepting support and donations from anyone who wants to be, as Mora puts it, “on the right side of history.”
So far, he told The Daily Beast, informal representatives from both the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaigns have reached out to TUF but Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and John Kasich have yet to make contact.
“We haven’t heard from our friends on the Republican side of the aisle but we will send everyone the questionnaire,” said Mora.
In talking with TUF, it clear that reaching out to GOP candidates is more than just a token gesture. They believe that there are many Republicans, including elected representatives, who diverge from party leaders on transgender issues.
For example, Dennis Daugaard, the Republican governor of South Dakota, recently vetoed a bill that would ban transgender students from using the correct bathrooms, noting that it “does not address any pressing issue concerning the school districts of South Dakota.” There are other outliers, too, including Republican Florida congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has a transgender child and serves on the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.
“We’re trying to change the definition of what it means to be supportive of the trans community,” Mora told The Daily Beast.
Salcedo believes that TUF also gives the people who already support transgender rights an opportunity to put their money where their mouths are.
“People who have the ability and who have the privilege to contribute to the betterment and the livelihood of trans people, should invest in trans people,” she told The Daily Beast.
It’s an investment that TUF believes will pay dividends for more than just the estimated 700,000 Americans who are transgender. At present, many of the bills that target trans people harm other groups as well. North Carolina’s law, for instance, also bans local efforts to raise the minimum wage and Mississippi’s allows religious discrimination against people who have premarital sex. In Houston, anti-transgender bathroom panic was leveraged to shoot down a sweeping anti-discrimination ordinance that would have also protected people with disabilities.
“It’s a very cynical bet that these extremists are making,” said Mora. “They’re betting that if they target trans people, this vulnerable community, that nobody else will stand up with us and for us.”
TUF is certain that this bet will backfire.
“That [extremist strategy] might work in the short term but it won’t work in the long term,” Mora added. “We won’t let it work.”