Historic hearing addresses trans issues

Transmissions

Note: This month’s intended column, “Alternative Realities, Part 2: Reparative Therapy” will appear next month to allow coverage of this groundbreaking event.

Never has it been easier to be proud of both the Trans community and our elected leaders. On Thursday, June 26, history was made. The Congressional Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, chaired by Rep. Rob Andrew of New Jersey convened the first ever hearing to address Trans issues. Front and center were several issues, specifically ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the issues of rampant under- and unemployment of trans workers.
In addition to well reasoned arguments from Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), the subcommittee took testimony from a panel, including four Trans individuals with poignant and moving life stories and a corporate ally from Dow Chemical.

After an opening statement from the chair, a passionate ally for 14th Amendment equal protections for all citizens, the subcommittee heard opening remarks from the two Congressional witnesses.
Rep. Baldwin asserted, “The importance of non discrimination laws cannot be overstated.

Substantively, they provide real remedies and a chance to seek justice.” She added that there was commensurate symbolic significance to the passage of laws designed to insure equal treatment in the workplace.

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Ms. Baldwin further remarked that “at least 300 companies now ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression. Corporate America and the American people are way ahead of the Congress in acknowledging the basic truth we all hold to be self evident: ‘All of us are created equal.’ The laws of the land should reflect that equality.”

Rep. Frank fully demonstrated an entirely supportive stance, somewhat unexpected after the pulling of “gender identity and expression” from ENDA last year. He has acquitted himself remarkably and this fact cannot be overstressed. He laid out four baseless arguments, often used to support the exclusion of Trans persons from workplace protections, as well as to support marginalization and disenfranchisement with respect to a host of other issues.

Among his arguments were:
— “Trans anti discrimination legislation is redundant.” Frank maintained that Congress NEVER shies away from using a few extra words. Be that as it may, however, there is no legal scholarship which accepts that the words “sexual orientation” also connote or include the words “gender identity and/or expression”.
— “Giving equal protections to Trans individuals can be disruptive.” Frank’s comments in this regard represent his strongest endorsement of trans inclusion. Yes, he said new and different sometimes makes us nervous, “but people will inevitably get used to it.” Rep. Frank mentioned his own experiences as a gay man and that he understood the discomfort a person might initially feel. He stressed, however, that, in his many involvements with anti discrimination legislation, even though initial discomfort was often posited as a first reaction, there was never any reason to support this as a bona fide response. Initial discomfort never had any kind of residual effect.
— “Protection for trans individuals already exists.” Rep. Frank categorically asserted that this was, indeed, not the case.
— “There is no need.” Again, the Congressman stated that this was not so.

The testimony of the four trans witnesses made the last point admirably. Colonel Diane Schroer, whose case against the Library of Congress is being directed by the ACLU, was hired to a position for which she was eminently qualified. As soon as her prospective supervisor learned she was trans, the job offer was rescinded.

Sabrina Marcus Taraboletti had been employed by NASA as a space shuttle engineer. In like manner, she was dismissed as soon as her superiors learned of her forthcoming transition.

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Diego Sanchez and Shannon Minter are both employed but work with non-profit organizations fighting for those who are underprivileged and under-protected in the trans community. Both testified to the importance of ENDA legislation and made the case that the stakes are nothing short of survival. .

The minority called J.C. Miller, an attorney handling corporate litigation, and Glen Lavy, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. Ms. Miller appeared to maintain that she had no strong opinions either for or against said legislation, but wanted to ensure that any language written into law would be clear and unambiguous.

She fully knew the potential conundrum the Trans community faces in its attempt towards definition. We are a diverse group and such diversity often has difficulty in homogenizing itself. Detractors know this and sense that they can “divide and conquer” by exposing our diversity as though it were a weakness. Nonetheless, the issues against Trans inclusive legislation were laid out and open for consideration.

Perhaps even most astonishing, however, was the weakness of Mr. Lavy’s position. His repetitive pauses, his hemming and hawing, and his endless obfuscation both in his testimony and from sub committee queries, elicits a sense of wonder that those who declaim so virulently against Trans inclusion were unwilling to send a capable emissary to this hearing. Are they such cowards that they fear their words being exposed to the light of day? Is their stance so baseless and bigoted that the safety of their pulpits or their newspapers is the only place they feel safe to spew their hatred?

If what Rep. Andrews has stated is actually the case, there is every reason to believe that there will be more hearings of this nature. Any of the thousands of Trans individuals who have suffered workplace discrimination may be called to testify. We will hopefully hear from more of our elected officials, informing us that they both support and will vote for a Trans inclusive ENDA. And…maybe, just maybe, the dissenters will have the courage to make their case heard without endless rhetorical evasions and obfuscations. Don’t count on it. I’m not.

— Please email any comments, criticisms or corrections to: robbi_cohn108@yahoo.com.

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