Why 'Gender Identity’ in ENDA matters to me
Of all the nouns that can be used to describe me – including woman, attorney, spouse, parent, homeowner, business owner – it is often the noun ‘transgender’ that sticks with people. And, for good reason. Despite my so-called ‘passing privilege’ I rarely let people forget that I was not always seen in my circle of family, friends, and co-workers as a woman. And, on three separate occasions, despite exemplary professional performance in my jobs, I was terminated from senior-level executive positions because of my gender identity and expression.
In the first such instance, I was the Vice-President of Finance for a small medical products distribution and home health care company located in Clearwater, FL. I had been hired 4 years earlier because the company was in financial distress and needed sound management in this area. I turned the company around and provided the owners with a liquidity they had only dreamed of. Only months before my termination I received a letter of praise and thanks from the primary stockholder. Then he discovered that, while away from work, I would dress as a woman. He was so deeply offended that he called me into his office, fired me, and then had me escorted off the premises. As a direct result of that termination my family – my children – and I lost our cars and all of our savings and were forced into bankruptcy.
Later, as the Chief Financial Officer for a small publicly held computer hardware and software company located in Tampa, FL, I helped to raise the millions of dollars necessary to finance the company’s necessary research and product development. Again, my performance reviews were full of praise and gratitude. However, when I announced my intention to transition from living my life as a man to living it as a woman, I was asked to leave.
However, as it turns out, I’m one of the very rare, incredibly lucky transgenders. I met a man who did not care about my gender expression or identity. He cared only about what I could do for his company. Four years after hiring me (when I was hired his company was producing less than $5 million per year in sales) I orchestrated the sale of the company for him for nearly $200 million, over half of which went directly to his personal bank account. Needless to say, he is still one of my strongest advocates.
What distinguished the third business owner from the first two was the recognition that gender plays no role in job performance.
A few years later, I was privileged to attend the University of Michigan Law School. At that time, the University prohibited discrimination against its faculty, staff, and students on several bases, including sexual orientation. But, it did not prohibit such discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. A task force commissioned by the University President, Mary Sue Coleman, found that such discrimination did in fact exist on the campus. The first recommendation of that task force was amending the University’s bylaws to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. Responding to near universal support (and, indeed, some pressure) from its faculty, staff and students the University this year did amend its bylaws to provide that much needed protection for its population. But, they were not the first and don’t merely represent the ‘liberal’ environment of higher education. Indeed, currently 9 states and over 150 cities and municipalities – plus a large percentage of the Fortune 1000 – prohibit such discrimination.
As I said, I’m one of the very rare, incredibly lucky ones. Most transgender people are unemployed, or woefully underemployed. Unemployment and underemployment of people hurts us all.
We are at an historic cross-roads. We now have an opportunity to protect American citizens from workplace discrimination that has nothing whatsoever to do with their abilities to perform their jobs. As part of my legal education, I’ve had the opportunity to read many cases regarding discrimination in the workplace that bears striking resemblances to the discrimination which I suffered. The jobs that were lost, represented by these cases, include airline pilots, firefighters, police officers, professors, city managers, bus drivers, and yes, business executives such as myself. We exist in every walk of life in America. It is contrary to our country’s value system that we allow such discrimination based not on performance but on traits that are otherwise meaningless in the workforce.
House Resolution 3685 – the Employment Non-Discrimination Act – says that it will outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. That is a wonderful thing. But, it falls woefully short of what it needs to do. Over 300 local, state, and national organizations have banded together to say that this bill needs to be fixed. Representative Tammy Baldwin has proposed an amendment to the bill that can fix it.
PLEASE – call your representative – TODAY – and tell her/him that you strongly support the Baldwin amendment to HR 3685 and would ONLY support the bill if that amendment were a part of it.
If you don’t know how to reach your representative, or what to say, try the following (borrowed from my friend, Phyllis):
1. Go to www.congress.org, enter your zip code and find your US Representative.
2. Call BOTH the local office and the Washington office on the phone.
3. Tell the person who answers that you are a constituent. You live in the district. Tell that person that you support LGBT equality at work.
4. Tell the person who answers that you want HR-3685 amended to include transgenders and straight people who may express gender a little differently than the norm (like women wearing pants or men with long hair or an earring). Tell them that you want HR-3685 to be amended to include "gender identity or gender expression."
5. Tell the person that Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) has such an amendment and you want a YES vote on the Baldwin amendment to HR-3685.
6. Tell the person that if the Baldwin amendment fails that you want a NO vote on the non-inclusive and toothless HR-3685 that does not protect ALL of your LGBT friends, and that does not protect you because sometimes you go outside of the gender stereotype.
The vote on the amendment is Wednesday. Please call soon.