02/04/2019 22:05 BST | Updated 03/04/2019 00:30 BST

Rep. Pramila Jayapal Tears Up During Speech About Her Gender-Nonconforming Child

"My child is free to be who they are," the Democratic congresswoman said during a House hearing on the Equality Act.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) delivered a powerful anecdote about being the mother of a gender-nonconforming child on Tuesday as part of a speech urging Congress to pass proposed LGBT rights legislation.

The Equality Act, introduced to the House on March 13 and co-sponsored by Jayapal, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal laws to ensure LGBTQ people are treated as a protected class under federal law. It would also expand protections for members of existing protected classes.

“We’re talking about fear versus love,” Jayapal, a member of the LGBT Equality Caucus, said during a House judiciary committee hearing on the act. “We’re talking about fear versus freedom.”

Jayapal, pausing momentarily after being overcome with emotion, began to discuss her personal experience as a mother to a gender-nonconforming child. 

“I didn’t intend to say this today,” she said. “But my beautiful now 22-year-old child told me last year that they were gender-nonconforming.”

Gender nonconforming refers to people whose gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity.

Jayapal continued:

Over the last year, I have come to understand from a deeply personal mother’s perspective ― 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, 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.

Since this deeply impactful moment last year, my child ― who has always done well in school but has carried what a mother can only describe as a heavy burden of conflict in their own being that I could not fully identify or help to express ― since this deeply impactful moment last year, my child’s embracing of their nonconforming gender identity and all that it has allowed, all that it allows in terms of their creativity, their brilliance, their self-expression, the only thought I wake up with every day is my child is free.

My child is free to be who they are. And in that freedom comes a responsibility for us as legislators to protect their freedom to be who they are and to legislate ... our behavior towards all people in our society. 

People who identify as gender-nonconforming or transgender experience higher suicide rates as compared to the overall population, according to a 2018 study published in the Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders. Study authors cited discrimination, family rejection, internalized transphobia and being denied bathroom or housing access as risk factors for suicide.

Members of the LGBT community and their allies praised Jayapal on Twitter for her moving speech and for raising awareness about LGBT rights.