Source: HRC[Image description: Three black silhouettes of people stand on either side of a red circle with a slash through it. In the middle of the circle are the words “Workplace Discrimination.”]
Dear Congressman Sam Farr,
I am writing to you today about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013. I live in the 20th district of California, your district, and I am transgender. I’m lucky to live in one of only eighteen states that ban discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, but many of my LGBT siblings across the country are not so lucky. Transgender people in particular face intense discrimination in many areas of social life, including education, medical care, housing, public accommodations, and employment. It’s the last area that I want to talk with you about today.
The National Transgender Discrimination Survey, published in 2011, surveyed over 6,000 transgender and gender non-conforming people in all fifty states (Grant 18). The survey showed that trans and gender non-conforming people experience double the rate of unemployment of the general population, “with rates for people of color up to four times the national unemployment rate” (Grant 3). Of those employed, ninety percent reported experiencing harassment and discrimination at work (Grant 3). Respondents who had lost a job due to bias or who were currently unemployed experienced many more negative outcomes compared to those who were employed, including “nearly double the rate of working in the underground economy (such as doing sex work or selling drugs), twice the homelessness, 85% more incarceration, and more negative health outcomes, such as more than double the HIV infection rate and nearly double the rate of current drinking or drug misuse to cope with mistreatment” (Grant 3). In addition, suicide attempts rise based on employment status. Out of those who were unemployed, lost a job due to bias, or worked in the underground economy, over 50% in each category attempted suicide (Grant 12).
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act was first introduced by lawmakers in 1994. That year both House and Senate versions of ENDA did not make it past committee. Versions of ENDA were then reintroduced in every session of Congress except the 109th, but it wasn’t until 2007 that ENDA began to include language to prevent discrimination based on gender identity as well as sexual orientation (Hunt). ENDA has a narrow focus on employment discrimination, while the discrimination trans people face involves many other areas of life. However, given that all the proposed versions of ENDA have failed thus far, and given the staggering rate of poverty in the transgender community, I want this act to pass so that trans people have more opportunities for income. We must not stop fighting for full civil and human rights, but we also need this win, even if it’s not broad enough to bandage all our wounds.
I know you’re already aware of at least some of these numbers and facts, as you voiced your support by cosponsoring the bill in 1999 and when it was introduced again in 2013 (“Cosponsors”). So why am I telling you all of these facts and figures that you probably already know? Well, firstly I felt it was important for you to understand how pressing this issue is. I’m sure organizations and people much smarter and working much harder on the topic than me have talked with you about it. But I live in your district. I want you to hear it from me, to hear how important it is to me, one of the people you represent while you do your work in Washington. Secondly, I want to know how we can make sure this bill doesn’t fail again. What can we do to push it forward, to change the hearts and minds of the people who change the laws? The 2013 version has passed the Senate – now it’s up to the House.
So what is it that I want you to do? I want you to talk to your fellow Congress members, both those who already support LGBT rights and those who do not. Explain to them how important this bill is. Find target audiences who will be instrumental in making change and spreading that change to others. Talk with transgender people about the knowledge they want spread, and strategize with them about what messages will be clearest to which targets. Know what actions the trans community wants taken, and what specific targets can do to meet those needs. Never stop advocating for us. We won’t stop fighting against the voices that call our humanity into question and leave us in poverty and violence. We will not wait for our turn to come because it’s too difficult to get LGBT bills to pass with the “T” attached. The time to recognize our humanity is now. We deserve the right to live, to work, to prosper.
Make sure you talk about our community’s beauty and strength as well as its hardships. We face many difficulties, but we also contribute incredible things to society. Rather than focusing solely on our problems, focus on our skills and assets as well. Instead of seeing transgender lives as sad or pitiable, instead see that we are bringing forth new kinds of gender and expression that create new ways of being. Our journeys are celebratory explorations of what it means to be human, to be male and female and other genders entirely. Our creative works, including art, writing, and simply living and creating communities, break down boundaries between men and women that have been constructed and enforced by oppressive regimes. Transgender people are working to reconnect ourselves and the world with lost and erased history. I discovered I have Jewish ancestors who crossed the lines of male and female many hundreds of years ago, and are referenced many times in the Mishna and Talmud (Kukla). Our existence is a boon to all of society, not a burden. Support us, and you will reap only benefits.
¹Grant, Jaime M., Lisa A. Mottet, Justin Tanis, Jack Harrison, Jody L. Herman, and Mara Keisling. Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Washington: National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2011.
²Hunt, Jerome. “A History of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”Center for American Progress. Americanprogress.org, 19 July 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
³”Cosponsors.” H.R.1755 – Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013. Congress.gov, 25 Apr. 2013. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/1755/cosponsors>.
4Kukla, Rabbi Elliot. “Terms for Gender Diversity in Classical Jewish Texts.” TransTorah. 2006. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. <http://www.transtorah.org/PDFs/Classical_Jewish_Terms_for_Gender_Diversity.pdf>.[Headline image: The photograph shows the U.S. Capitol building at night with the words “Pass Enda Now” across the bottom.]