Congress hears from transgenders about job discrimination

WASHINGTON — After getting hired as a national security analyst with the Library of Congress, David Schroer took his new boss out to lunch to share some news: On his first day of work, he planned to show up as Diane.

The next day the job offer was withdrawn, and Schroer says it was a clear case of discrimination.

"In 24 hours, I had gone from a welcome addition to the staff to someone who was 'not a good fit' because I was a woman," Schroer told a House subcommittee Thursday. "Hero to zero in 24 hours."

Schroer took center stage Thursday as Congress made history with its first hearing on discrimination against transgender employees.

The hearing came after Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California was picketed last year after House leaders removed transgender employees from a jobs discrimination bill that offered protections to gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Supporters of the legislation want the House to reverse that decision next year.

Sabrina Marcus Taraboletti, a transgender woman and a former aerospace engineer who worked at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, told the panel that she was fired six weeks after announcing that she would be changing her sex from male to female.

"After 20 years of service, I received no severance pay, nor was I allowed to collect unemployment," she said.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco and one of the winning attorneys in California's landmark gay marriage case, called it "a truly historic day," and said it felt overwhelming to tell his story to Congress. Minter, 47, grew up in rural Texas and moved to San Francisco in 1993. Twelve years ago, he transitioned from female to male. Since puberty, he said, he had a sense of being trapped in the wrong body.

"It's an intensely miserable experience," Minter said in an interview. "It's such a profound sense that your physicality is wrong. It's excruciating. I felt like constantly I was not myself."

But after receiving hormone therapy and undergoing an operation, he said he felt like his body "was getting the right juice," giving him incredible relief.

Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who's openly gay, told the House Subcommittee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions that hate crimes against transgender Americans "are tragically common." She said transgenders face constant discrimination "in the mundane tasks of the everyday," such as finding housing, applying for credit or even seeing a doctor.

Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who's also openly gay, had a plea on their behalf. "Can't you help them?" he asked panel members.

Opposing the legislation, Glen Lavy, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, said it would be a mistake to define gender identity or gender expression as a protected class. He said that objections to "the concept of transgender" are based on religious beliefs and that forcing the idea as a valid concept "is like forcing an Orthodox Jew to eat pork." And he said that employers would have difficulty enforcing dress codes and assuring privacy.

"With gender identity being totally subjective, who could challenge any male who says he wants to use a woman's restroom?" Lavy asked.

Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, the top-ranking Republican on the committee, questioned whether Congress needs to get involved at all.

"We have numerous federal and state laws and employer policies already on the books that help prevent discriminatory practices," he said. "Do we need yet another federal law?"

In 38 states, witnesses said, transgender employees can be fired for any reason. After Minnesota passed the nation's first law banning such workplace discrimination in 1993, the District of Columbia and 11 states — California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — followed suit.