This morning, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee held a hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would extend employment protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. For the first time in the Senate’s history, a transgender witness testified on behalf of the bill. Kylar Broadus, founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition, discussed his experiences coming out trans, including mistreatment by police, workplace harassment, and employment discrimination:
BROADUS: When I used female restrooms, police would accost me. I would have to strip and then they still told me, “Sir, get out of the bathroom,” when I would use the ladies’ room. It’s just humiliating and dehumanizing to say the least.[…]
Prior also to the physical transition, I was working in the financial industry, which is actually a high-paying industry. But again, when I shifted or transitioned, that’s when all the trouble began. And it’s still emotional to me, because it impacted me emotionally — I suffer from post-traumatic stress as a result of the harassment that I encountered in the workplace from my employer.[…]
To be unemployed is very devastating, also demeaning and demoralizing. And then the recovery time — there is no limit on it. I still have not financially recovered. I’m underemployed. When I do talks, I tell people I’m not employable. I was lucky to be where I am and I’m happy to be where I am, but I’m one of the fortunate people that is employed. There are many more people like me that are not employed as a result of just being who they are — being good workers, but being transgender or transsexual. So I think it’s extremely important that this bill be passed to protect workers like me.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) expressed pride in the committee for inviting Broadus to speak. Watch his full testimony:
No opponents of the bill attended the hearing, so the panel and questions were mostly positive. One witness, Craig Parshall of the National Religious Broadcasters Association, testified against ENDA, arguing that religious businesses should be able to discriminate against gay and trans employees according to their beliefs. Largely the committee ignored Parshall during the questioning, and when he did express concern, Samuel Bagenstos of the University of Michigan Law School countered the technicalities of his claims, pointing out that ENDA actually has broad religious exemptions.
ENDA has been stalled in Congress for decades. Though Republican control of the House may prevent its advance yet again in 2012, today’s Senate hearing was nonetheless historic. The fact that most of the discussion at today’s hearing was supportive and non-confrontational demonstrates how significantly overdue these employment protections are.