Optimism Grows for National Trans Discrimination Bill
The contestants on "RuPaul’s Drag Race" are doing drag. There’s a difference between female impersonators and someone who is transgendered.
One of the show’s contestants, Carmen Carrera, found out the discrimination that comes with being transgendered after she announced her status on a May 1 episode of ABC’s "What Would You Do?" When the reality star appeared on an episode of TLC’s "Cake Boss" on June 11, Carrera was tricked into flirting with a man who didn’t know she had transitioned.
After the "joke" went on for some time, the man was finally told that he had been flirting "with a man, baby!"
"Calling me a ’man’ promotes ignorance and makes it OK to call transgender women men," Carrera wrote in Facebook after the incident, which was criticized by groups such as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination. "People get bullied, beat up and killed for being trans because of this ignorance," Carrera wrote.
We only know of Carrera’s humiliation because it occurred on national television. But too many transgendered face harassment in the workplace - 50 percent, according to Lisa Mottet, a transgendered attorney with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She also told EDGE that one-quarter have lost a job because they were transgender; 44 percent never even got that chance, because their employers wouldn’t even hire them in the first place because they were transgender.
A national bill to add the transgender to the classification of discrimination has been introduced in nearly every Congress since 1994, but it has never even gotten a hearing in committee. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by civilian, and nonreligious employers with at least 15 employees.
Quiet Momentum Building
Even so, there has been a quiet momentum building.
In early June the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing on ENDA. For the first time in the Senate’s history, a transgender witness testified on behalf of the legislation.
Founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition Kylar Broadus told the committee his story of coming out as transgender and how he has been mistreated by police and has experienced workplace harassment and employment discrimination.
Human Rights Campaign spokesperson Michael Cole-Schwartz called the hearing and Broadus’ testimony "a big milestone," a sentiment echoed by the Task Force’s Mottest.
"Having a transgender person testify in the Senate was incredibly important both for ENDA and for transgender rights," she told EDGE. "As the senators heard Kylar Broadus talk about his life and his experience of discrimination, they were clearly paying attention and they really seemed to be moved by his testimony. It was an important milestone for ENDA in the Senate.
"With Kylar’s testimony, they clearly addressed the issue of discrimination against transgender people and seemed very comfortable asking him about his experiences and the gender identity provisions in the bill. He really put a face on the disastrous consequences that employment discrimination has for transgender people," she continued.
Gay lesbian members of Congress have been strong supporters of ENDA over the years, including Rep Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) who introduced the first version of ENDA to include trans (not just gay and lesbian) protections last year; Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced it in the Senate.
Considering its past failures, most observers, like Mara Keisling, executive director of National Center for Transgender Equality, are hopeful it will pass, just not this year.
"ENDA will eventually pass," Keisling told EDGE. "It has zero chance of passing this year." What will make the difference is a generational change in the entire congressional membership, she added.
GOP House Speaker John Boehner "has indicated that he has not looked at ENDA nor thought much about it," Mottet pointed out. "He said that if changes were necessary in employment law, he was sure the House committee would look at it. Therefore, it seems incredibly unlikely that ENDA would be considered in the House given the current leadership."
Change in the House Essential
Cole-Schwartz also believes ENDA’s eventual passage will only take place when the present "anti-gay House leadership" is replaced. "Not only do they show zero willingness for LGBT rights but they also undermine our community," he said. "The biggest hurdle is the leadership."
Currently, only 19 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that protect members of the LGBT community against workplace discrimination, Truth-Out.org reported. There are 29 states where a gay or transgender person can be fired or denied a job because of who they are.
Those who oppose ENDA argue that being gay or transgender is not something innate in one’s nature, but rather a sickness.
On its website, the Family Research Council maintains that they "have a mental illness (’gender identity disorder’) which can and should be treated using gender-affirming therapy, not self-mutilating surgery." The group accuses ENDA of being "based on false premises and is wrong in principle. Those are reasons enough to oppose it, regardless of its practical consequences."
FRC is also trotting out the argument, familiar among the religious right, that the bill would curtail free speech. According to the group’s website, ENDA "could lead to a crackdown not only on speech that is truly harassing, but on any expressions of concern about the wisdom of homosexual conduct or of "changing" one’s gender. Such policies have already led to unfair personnel actions, including the firing of personnel for statements made on their own time and in a private capacity."