WASHINGTON — The Senate heard for the first time ever testimony from a transgender witness in a hearing dedicated to highlighting workplace discrimination experienced by LGBT people.
Kylar Broadus, founder of the Columbia, Mo., based Trans People of Color Coalition, discussed job discrimination he faced as a transgender man before the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee on Tuesday as he called for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
In the early 1990s, Broadus worked for a major financial institution, although he didn’t disclose its name during the hearing. After announcing in 1995 he would undergo gender transitioning, Broadus said he was forced out of his role.
“At work, when I decided to actually transition, I had been there for a number of years, and I’m a workaholic, and it was disheartening to me that all this could be pulled out from under me because people weren’t comfortable with the person that I am,” Broadus said.
His written testimony details receiving harassing phone calls, receiving assignments after hours that were due early next morning and being forbidden from talking to certain people.
“I still sit here today with almost tears in my eyes,” Broadus said. “It’s devastating, it’s demoralizing and dehumanizing to be put in that position.”
Broadus said his treatment at the job and being forced out impacted him emotionally, causing him post-traumatic stress disorder, and led to period of unemployment for about a year from which he still hasn’t financially recovered.
Noting other transgender workers who face discrimination and lose their jobs are unable to regain employment, Broadus called on Congress to pass ENDA to put into place workplace non-discrimination protections.
“I think it’s extremely important that this bill be passed to protect workers like me,” Broadus said. “There are many cases that I hear everyday, and people call me everyday with these cases around the country because I’m also an attorney that practices and deals with people that suffer employment discrimination.”
Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) confirmed during the hearing that Broadus was the first openly transgender person to testify before the Senate and commended him for his courage in speaking before the committee, saying he’s going to ”give courage to a lot of other people.”
ENDA, sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) in the House and Jeff Merkley in the Senate (D-Ore.), would bar job bias against LGBT people in most situations in the public and private workforce. Firing someone for being gay is legal is 29 states; firing someone for being transgender is legal in 34 states.
Others who testified in favor of ENDA were M.V. Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles; Samuel Bagenstos, a law professor at the University of Michigan; and Ken Charles, vice president of diversity and inclusion at the breakfast foods company General Mills.
The Republican witness who testified against ENDA was Craig Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel for the Manassas, Va., based National Religious Broadcasters Association. Parshall previously testified against ENDA before the Senate in 2009.
Harkin called ENDA “important civil rights legislation” that would build off strides already made against workplace discrimination in the past 45 years.
“Many states and businesses are already leading the way toward ensuring full equality for all our fellow citizens,” Harkin said. “However, the harsh reality is that employers in most states can still fire, refuse to hire, or otherwise discriminate against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity — and, shockingly, they can do so within the law.”
Merkley said expressed urgency in the need for passing ENDA, saying without it on the books, LGBT workers will continue to face workplace discrimination.
“Let us not lose sight that each and every day, American citizens are discriminated against in their employment or their potential employment in ways that have a profound impact on their opportunity fully live their lives, to fully contribute, to fully pursue happiness, to be all that they can be, all that they are — which is a benefit to them and a benefit to our nation,” Merkley said. “This discrimination is absolutely wrong. It is morally wrong and we must end it.”
The hearing takes places after the White House announced in April it won’t issue at this time an executive order requiring federal contractors to have their own non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The directive didn’t come up during the hearing.
No Republican committee members attended the hearing. The only GOP co-sponsor who serves on the committee is Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). He’s been recovering from a stroke he suffered in late January. A minority committee spokesperson didn’t immediate respond to a request to comment on why all Republican committee members were absent.
Democrats who attended the hearing in addition to Harkin and Merkley were Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and, briefly, Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).