WASHINGTON -- For the first time in American history, an openly transgender person testified before a Senate committee on Tuesday.
Kylar Broadus, founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition, testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which aims to end workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In 29 states there are no protections for gay, lesbian and bisexual workers, while transgender workers lack protections in 34 states.
"It is imperative that Congress pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act so that transgender people like me are able to live our lives and provide for our families without fear of discrimination," said Broadus, who transitioned from female to male about 20 years ago.
Broadus described the discrimination he has faced in the workplace.
"After I announced my gender transition, it only took six months before I was 'constructively discharged' from my employer. While my supervisors could tolerate a somewhat masculine-appearing black woman, they were not prepared to deal with my transition to being a black man. With growing despair, I watched my professional connections, support and goodwill evaporate, along with my prospects of remaining employed. I was harassed until I was forced to leave. I received harassing telephone calls hourly from my supervisor some days. I received assignments after hours that were due by 9 a.m. the next morning. The stress was overwhelming. I ended up taking a stress leave for several weeks. I thought upon my return perhaps things would settle down. I was back less than a week from stress leave and knew that it wasn’t going to settle down. I was forbidden from talking to certain people and my activities were heavily monitored. I was forced out and unemployed for about a year before finally obtaining full-time employment."
Tuesday's hearing was the first Senate ENDA hearing in nearly three years. The bill is sponsored by all 12 Democrats on the committee, with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) as its lead sponsor. Republican Sens. Mark Kirk (Ill.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Susan Collins (Maine) have also signed on as sponsors.
"It's time to make clear that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans are first class citizens," Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said in his opening statement. "They are full and welcome members of our American family and they deserve the same civil rights protections as all other Americans."
Merkley discussed support for the bill from the business community, noting that athletic apparel company Nike announced its support for ENDA.
"ENDA is good for business, good for our employees and our communities," Merkley said, reading comments from Nike. "Inclusive non-discrimination policies 'enable us to attract and retain the best and brightest people around the world.'"
Republicans called just one witness, Craig Parshal, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Religious Broadcasters Association. He testified against ENDA, calling the legislation "unaccommodating" to religious organizations and saying it would place an unconstitutional burden on religious organizations.
Though the bill is unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled House, advocates hope that ENDA passage in the Senate will showcase the lack of substantial opposition and generate public pressure on the matter. The Obama administration has also come out in support of the legislation.