WASHINGTON — When Kylar Broadus told his employer he would be making a gender transition from a woman to a man, he was harassed and ultimately forced out of his well-paying job at a financial institution, he said. It took him a year to find other employment.
“People lose their careers. It’s over when people find out you’re transgender,” said Broadus, founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition, who some senators said was the first openly transgender person to testify before theU.S. Senateon Tuesday.
Following a letter from Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions reopened discussion on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would prohibit nonreligious employers with at least 15 employees from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Forty-two percent of homosexuals and bisexuals reported employment discrimination because of their sexual orientation, according to the 2008 General Social Survey, a sociological survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
Seventy-eight percent of transgender people reported harassment at work because of their gender identity, according to a 2011 report by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
Among those who say they have faced discrimination are Jacqueline Gill, a temporary instructor at a community college in Texas, who was told by her supervisor that “Texas doesn’t like homosexuals” and Vandy Beth Glenn, a transgender woman who says she was fired from her job at the Georgia General Assembly for her gender expression.
“We have decades of social science research that tell us that those stories, which are just a sample of many, are repeated in workplaces all throughout America,” testified M.V. Lee Badgett, research director for the Williams Institute. However, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has had little success in Congress. ENDA has been introduced in nearly every Congress since 1994, and in 2007 a modified version, without protections for transgender individuals, passed through the House before dying in the Senate.
While committee chairman Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) expressed a commitment to seeing the bill move quickly through committee, he could not give any time frame. No Republicans attended what was supposed to be a full committee hearing.
Freedom to Work, a national organization committed to banning workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday urging him to bring the bill to the Senate floor. Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida plans to continue to press Harkin to push the bill through the committee.
Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and it is illegal in 16 states and the District of Columbia for employers to discriminate on the basis of gender identity.
While Broadus finds himself lucky to be employed once again, he still hasn’t recovered financially and emotionally from the discrimination he faced.
“It will go with me to my grave,” Broadus said.