Guest Blogger

It's Time to Advocate for ENDA

Filed By Guest Blogger | May 30, 2013 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: ENDA, lobbying, trans* employment protections

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Barbra Siperstein was the first transgender member appointed and confirmed to the Democratic National Committee, and is currently a member of the DNC Executive Committee and the deputy vice chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee. In addition to being the president of the New Jersey Stonewall Democrats, she's a published author, small business owner, veteran, and a grandparent.

In my prior columns I've talked about what I have done for transgender equality and about stepping up to create opportunities. One such opportunity -- a chance to create a dialogue with, educate, and perhaps even create change in our federal representatives -- is coming up next month. Woody Allen once said that "Eighty percent of success in life is just showing up," and on June 17, 2013 in Washington, DC we now have a chance to show up en masse, armed with an education and the ability to advocate for ourselves!

us_capitol.jpgThat day, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) is teaming up with the Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC) to pressure the U.S. Senate to move forward with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and inform lawmakers about the stake transgender people have in the fight for immigration reform.

ENDA is about jobs. It's about enabling trans people to earn a living and strive for the American dream.

Is employment discrimination a problem for trans people? Is harassment on the job a problem for trans people? Is there a reason why the overwhelming majority of trans want to be stealth if they are able?

NCTE and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force launched a six-month data collection process in the first comprehensive national effort to answer these questions, document transgender discrimination in America, and chronicle the effects of societal stigma. They interviewed 6,450 transgender people through an extensive questionnaire covering critical topics like employment, education, health care, housing, public accommodation, criminal justice, family life and access to government documents. Respondents came from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the data generated by their answers was compared to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Labor.

The executive summary of the final report can be found here.

The survey found that transgender people are unemployed at alarming rates, nearly double the national average. The disparity is even more acute for respondents who are black (26%), Latino (18%), and multiracial (17%).

Forty-seven percent of survey respondents experienced an adverse job action because they are transgender -- they did not get a job, were denied a promotion or were fired -- that directly impacted their employment status. A staggering number of the people surveyed (26%) lost their jobs due to their gender identity/expression. Black and multiracial respondents were particularly hard hit, at 32% and 37% respectively.

The survey highlighted a universal experience of mistreatment and harassment at work: ninety-seven percent of trans people have experienced mistreatment, harassment, or discrimination on the job, including invasion of privacy, verbal abuse, and physical or sexual assault.

Incredible? You'd better believe it!

Study respondents also experienced poverty at a much higher rate than the general population, with more than 27% reporting incomes of $20,000 or lower and over 15% reporting incomes of $10,000 or less, compared to 7% percent of the general population.

Employment protections are of obviously paramount importance. In 34 states you can be fired for being trans or being perceived as trans. New York State has "marriage equality" for gays and lesbians and a law protecting gays against being fired on the basis of sexual orientation, but if you are trans? Good luck!

Transgender people face discrimination, harassment and anti-transgender violence in many areas of their lives. These conditions create significant barriers to employment and lead to devastating economic insecurity. Basic employment protections for transgender people provide a crucial foundation for dignified, economically secure lives. And it should be a no-brainer: employment should be based on one's skills and ability, not on one's gender identity or expression.

Have you met with your legislators, the folks you send to Washington to represent you? If not, let Lobby Day on June 17 be your first time. If so, come on down and make your views known again. Your voice has the potential to change the debate and move ENDA forward.

The Lobby Day 2013 schedule is as follows:

Sunday, June 16: 6:00 pm-8:00 pm: Welcome Reception (Optional)

Monday, June 17:
9:00 am-11:30 am Lobbying Training, AFT/AFL-CIO, 4th floor. Click for address.
1:00 pm-5:00 pm: Meetings with members of Congress
5:30 pm-7:30 pm: Closing Reception (location TBD)

Come on down and check it out -- we have an opportunity to stand up for ourselves! And don't let fear keep you away: lobbying is not rocket science. I've done it many times and was successful in eventually passing a law in New Jersey protecting trans people in employment, housing and public accommodations. It's there in black and white on every relevant poster in every business, hotel, restaurant, etc. The experts said that we would fail, but when we stood together and spoke out, we won!

These words ring true: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." ---Margaret Mead

Believe it, and on June 17, do it!

See you in DC!

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