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During a speech on the House floor on Tuesday, Rep. Ramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) shared her experience of being the mother of a gender non-conforming child.
Jayapal’s speech was a part of her call to her colleagues to support the Equality Act, a bill she co-sponsored, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as other federal laws to make it so LGBTQ people are federally protected.
During debate of the bill on Tuesday conservative representatives like Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) tried to argue that it would “nominally protect certain individuals” while undermining religious freedom and freedom of speech.
When Jayapal spoke to the House, it wasn’t in abstractions, it was about her personal experience. “I didn’t intend to say this today,” she said, her voice choked up. “But my beautiful now 22-year-old child told me last year that they were gender-nonconforming.”
During @HouseJudiciary today, I shared why the #EqualityAct is so personal to me and my family. My child is finally free to be who they are. With that freedom comes a responsibility, for us as legislators, to legislate with love and not fear. pic.twitter.com/VfpiD9aDyY— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) April 2, 2019
“I’ve always been a civil rights activist, I’ve always fought for my constituents and my communities to have equal rights―but from a mother’s perspective,” Jayapal said, pausing to wipe her tears away. “I came to understand what their newfound freedom it is the only way I can describe what has happened to my beautiful child, what their newfound freedom to wear a dress, to rid themselves of some conformist stereotype of what they are, to be able to express who they are at their real core.”
Jayapal described her child always doing well in school but carrying with them “a heavy burden of conflict in their own being” which she could not identify until her child came out. “Since this deeply impactful moment last year, my child’s embracing of their non-conforming gender identity and all that it has allowed,” continued Jayapal, “the only thought I wake up with every day is, ‘my child is free.’”
Jayapal then put it plainly for her colleagues in the House, saying, “in that freedom comes a responsibility for us as legislators to protect their freedom.”
LGBTQ folks and allies thanked Jayapal for her support and her vulnerability.
Wow. Rep. Jayapal made the most beautiful statements on the power of her child’s own experience embracing their nonconforming gender identity. Thank you for sharing your stories, @RepJayapal. This is why we need the #EqualityAct. pic.twitter.com/R7DOqMGBCm— Tori Wenger (@ToriWenger) April 2, 2019
Thank you so much for sharing. You are showing yourself being a wonderful mother to a gifted and amazing child.— BBinPNW (@Boston_2019_) April 2, 2019
I am proud that you are my representative.#LoveWins
From one proud mom of a #trans child to another proud mom, thank you @RepJayapal for telling us about your beautiful child today. They are lucky to have you and we are lucky to have you as one of us, standing up for all trans and GNC folks. <3— Debi Jackson (@the_debijackson) April 2, 2019
Fellow legislator Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY..) also gave her support on Twitter, writing, “bravery is the courage to be vulnerable in front of the world. &Strength [sic] can be finding the power in your tears.”
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Alex Dalbey is a writer and zinester currently living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. They have written for The Daily Dot, Kill Screen, The Lingerie Addict, and Bullet Points.