House candidate Will Rollins: 'Time for this generation to get it right on trans rights'

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Democrat Will Rollins is running for the seat in California's 41st Congressional District currently held by Republican Ken Calvert, who has a long record of anti-LGBTQ votes.

Democrat Will Rollins is running in California's recently redrawn 41st Congressional District in November against Republican incumbent Rep. Ken Calvert, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Calvert, who has a long record of anti-LGBTQ votes in Congress, has held his seat in the House for three decades.

The LGBTQ rights organization Human Rights Campaign, in its scorecard measuring the support of members of Congress for pro-equality legislation, gave Calvert a score of zero in the 116th Congress and 115th Congress. In the 114th Congress, his score was 16 out of a possible 100.

The Los Angeles Times reported this month that with the large concentration of LGBTQ voters in the newly drawn 41st District, and the fact that Calvert's opponent, Rollins, is a gay man, Calvert is now saying that his views on LGBTQ issues have changed.

Calvert voted in July to protect marriage equality in federal law and repeal the anti-LGBTQ Defense of Marriage Act, despite having voted for DOMA in 1996.  

Rollins told the American Independent Foundation that he doesn't think voters should trust that Calvert will keep protecting LGBTQ rights after the election. He discussed what he will do if elected to advocate for LGBTQ Americans in Congress.

This interview has been edited for length.

THE AMERICAN INDEPENDENT FOUNDATION: You've said you support the Women's Health Protection Act and that you wish for the Justice Department to take actions to protect people's right to abortion care. Would you also support the Stop Abortion Disinformation Act to address disinformation spread by fake clinics, also known as "crisis pregnancy centers"? And what specifically would you advocate for the Justice Department to do to assist people who need access to abortion care?

WILL ROLLINS: Yes, absolutely, and I think that having worked in counterintelligence and seeing the rise of disinformation in a whole host of contexts, including disinformation designed to just destroy our democracy and make Americans turn against one another and get mad at each other, I understand, unfortunately, how powerful some of this information can be. To see it weaponized now against women who are seeking abortion access is unfortunately not surprising, but just underscores how important it is that we have federal leadership and folks in Congress who are willing to recognize the threat for what it is and are willing to actually do something about it instead of just throw up their hands and continue to feed the profitable disinformation machines that are unfortunately getting more and more power in our country.

I think one thing that we should be looking at that's a little bit creative, that I haven't heard too many people talk about yet, is interpreting the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act more broadly than we have in the past. And so if a state like Texas or some of the others that now immediately have made it illegal to have an abortion after the Supreme Court's decision — if those states try to stop women from leaving their territorial jurisdiction to access abortion care in another state, I think the DOJ should look at whether existing law already authorizes them to seek injunctions against those states and to order those state governments to stop enforcement of any state laws that they might try to enact to prevent women from leaving the country, and the same thing for medication abortion.

If women are seeking access to medical care through the mail, I think we can we can look at existing laws like the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and similar interstate commerce laws that are on the books and seek injunctions there to make sure that states aren't trying to further restrict access to abortion in a way that's much more aggressive, now that the Supreme Court overturned Roe. I think those are sort of stop-gap measures that we can take in the meantime, but obviously the single most important thing that we can do is hold the House and take up a couple more U.S. Senate seats this November, and I just cannot stress how important it is that the American people turn up and turn out and vote for what 90% of us want. 

TAIF: Your opponent opposed marriage equality but recently voted in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act. What more would you like to see him do to prove that he supports marriage equality? What would you do to fight against efforts to chip away at or undermine marriage equality?

ROLLINS: Yeah, so I don't believe that his views have changed. I believe that his calculus for political survival has changed. I think we know that because you can look at his vote on the Equality Act last year before the lines were redrawn: This is somebody who thought last year that it was OK for a landlord to kick out a tenant for being gay and that it was okay for an employer to fire the employee for being gay. And miraculously, several months later, he decides that he's in favor of marriage equality, just coincidentally after Palm Springs is drawn into his congressional district and he's facing the toughest reelection fight that he's had in a three-decade career in Congress. That's not a coincidence. It's political opportunism and it's transparent and frankly, I think even Republican voters don't have respect for people who will lie and say whatever and do whatever they can to just retain power above all else.

And that's exactly what this guy is about. … He has the power of a sitting member of Congress to introduce legislation and to vocally support legislation that can undo his entire three-decades career of anti-gay legislating. And if his views really had changed, he would be doing that. He's not. He wanted a token vote to put on a campaign flyer to try to maintain power. I think the other problem is when you have somebody who's willing to sell out to keep themselves in power, you just can't trust that those "changed views" are going to stay that way in a Republican majority.

TAIF: You've indicated that you will fight for trans service members' rights on your website, and in March you tweeted in support of Trans Day of Visibility. What else would you do to advocate for trans people as a member of Congress when they fight Republican efforts to take away their evidence-based gender-affirming care, stop them from participating on the sports team of their gender, and their parents fight accusations of abuse?

ROLLINS: I think we need federal laws to combat every single one of those pieces of legislation that's been enacted at the state level, because when you've got a legislature in Utah that decides it wants to target four kids out of 80,000 athletes and you've got a governor who vetoes the bill [and] says, Trans youth have a disproportionately higher risk of suicide than other kids in our state and I'm going to veto it — then the Republican-controlled Legislature overrides that veto, that is the signal that this far-right radicalism is targeting minorities and an extremely vulnerable minority.

The job of the federal government in these cases historically, throughout our history and civil rights, we have eventually gotten it right. It's time for this generation to get it right on trans rights. And so that means enacting legislation designed to protect trans youth. It means enacting legislation designed to protect families and parents who want to seek care with their doctors. The government should not be involved in that decision. And neighbors shouldn't be encouraged to tip off the government on other neighbors when they're just trying to help kids who are going through an extremely difficult time.

And that I can relate to in a lot of ways. Although I'm not trans, I understand exactly how it feels to not be able to control who you are and just feel like you're completely alone. And so when you have a state that is going out of its way to target people who are already in that position, already feeling alone and vulnerable and just trying to get help, it's just un-American, and I think that it's also symptomatic of a far-right party — at least elements of it that are are more interested in scapegoating and targeting than they are in developing meaningful policy solutions that will help the vast majority of all Americans, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, lifting people out of poverty, getting people access to affordable health care, and combating climate change.

TAIF: Would those actions be through the Equality Act or through some other legislation as well?

ROLLINS: The Equality Act for sure is one. We also want to make sure that there's federal legislation that enables parents of trans kids and trans families to seek care free from state interference, and that should be something that all families should have the ability to do. It should be a medical decision with the family and the kids involved. The government shouldn't be involved in that decision. Same thing with participation in targeting trans [kids in] sports, certainly up to high school and local levels. You don't want to have the state government targeting an extremely vulnerable and small population. Then, employment discrimination protections for trans folks who want to serve in the military — all that stuff needs to be codified so that people can thrive based on merit and regardless of who they are. I think that's really what America is supposed to be about. And so those are the kinds of bills that I would definitely support if elected.

Following up the interview, Rollins told TAIF: "I'd also support, for example, codifying the HHS and OCR guidance issued by the Biden Administration under Section 1557 of the ACA and expanding the law to ensure that private insurers and hospitals cannot refuse to provide similar coverage to trans people. We need to make sure the guidance [or executive order] can't just be reversed by a Republican administration and, more importantly, to clarify that it is against the law for providers to report parents seeking care for their trans kids to state authorities in places like Texas."

Rollins noted that he also supports the Armed Forces Trans­gen­der Dependent Protection Act, sponsored by California Democratic Rep. Jimmy Panetta, which would keep military families with trans dependents from being stationed in states that ban gender-affirming medical care or otherwise block families from receiving it.

He said that he would favor a bill like H.R. 1032, introduced in 2019 by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), which would have outlawed the involuntary separation of trans members of the armed services and the denial of enlistment or commissioning solely on the basis of gender identity. That bill stalled in the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel.

Rollins said he wants to make it clear that the right to an abortion must be protected for all people who need them, including nonbinary and trans people. "The transgender community already has an incredibly tough time accessing health care because of stigma and discrimination, which is why I am 100% committed to fighting the states, insurance companies, and far-right politicians who are all too eager to use Dobbs and Clarence Thomas's concurrence to amplify their attacks on the trans community," he said in an email.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.