Kylar Broadus was a self-described workaholic when he was working for a financial institution in the early 1990s. Then suddenly, he began receiving harassing phone calls and given assignments after hours due the next morning. He was told he wasn't allowed to talk to certain people. Finally he was forced out, he says, leaving him unemployed for a year and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I sit here today with almost tears in my eyes," Broadus (pictured at left) told the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee on Tuesday. "It's devastating, it's demoralizing and dehumanizing to be put in that position."
Broadus is the first openly transgender person to testify before the Senate, reports the Washington Blade, and he described the fallout of telling his employer his plans to undergo gender transitioning. Broadus asked Congress to please pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or otherwise discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
Nine out of 10 Americans already think it's illegal for employers to discriminate against LGBT employees or applicants, according to a June 2011 poll by the Center for American Progress. And 16 states and Washington, D.C. have passed such laws. But in most of this country, LGBT Americans have no legal recourse if they suffer what Broadus testified as having endured back in 1995.
"Many people think these protections already exist, but that's not the case," Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, testified at the hearing. "There is no clear federal law, and there are no such laws in over half the states. This jeopardizes our ability to have or keep employment, housing and feed our families. ENDA will level the playing field once and for all."
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been introduced to Congress, unsuccessfully, almost every year since 1994. But the campaign has recently picked up momentum, buoyed by support from the president, as well as the majority of the country. Seventy-three percent of likely voters say they favor these protections for gay, lesbian and transgender people -- 81 percent of Democrats, and 66 percent of Republicans, according to a new Center for American Progress poll.
But elected Republican representatives are not so enthusiastic. No Republican committee members attended the hearing. The only GOP co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is currently recovering from a stroke.
Craig Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Religious Broadcasters Association, testified against ENDA, as he did in 2009. At the hearing three years ago, he said ENDA "would pose a substantial and crippling burden on religious organizations," and the exemption offered to religious groups "was more of a mirage than a reality."
For example, a Christian small business owner could be sued if he refused to hire a gay or transgender person, if his business didn't qualify as a religious corporation.
The 17 percent of transgender workers that have been fired for their gender identity, and the 20 percent who report being harassed, according to the Williams Institute, a UCLA School of Law think tank, probably do not find this argument persuasive.
According to Broadus' LinkedIn profile, he was a claims specialist at State Farm Insurance in the early 1990s. State Farm did not return a call for comment.
Broadus told the Senate committee that he was lucky; he got another job, founded his own law practice and taught law and business administration at Lincoln University of Missouri. He also founded the Trans People of Color Coalition, and serves on the board of a number of social justice groups. Many other transgender Americans don't rebound so well. The percentage of transgender Americans who are unemployed is twice as high as the general population, according to a 2009 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, as is the percentage earning under $10,000 a year (15 percent).
"People lose their careers," Broadus was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as telling the committee. "It's over when people find out you're transgender."
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