Congress Learns About Transgender Bias

Human Rights

When David Schroer applied to be a specialist on terrorism at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, his stellar resume led to a job offer.

The highly decorated retired Army colonel had served 16 years in Special Forces, with 450 parachute jumps and combat experience in Panama and Haiti. Following 9-11, Schroer directed a classified 120-person Pentagon group involved in the war on terror.

But after telling his prospective boss over lunch that he was gender transitioning to Diane, Schroer recalls being told, "I was not a good fit for the library."

To transgender Americans, Diane Schroer's story is all too familiar. No federal law prohibits firing or not hiring someone who bravely decides to transition away from their birth gender.

But, in a historic first, Congress heard June 26th from Schroer and other transgender Americans about how honesty often leads to a lost career, homelessness and even suicide. "Hero to zero," Schroer aptly calls her experience.

It was a model civil rights hearing, much to the credit of Chairman Rob Andrews, D-N.J., who heads the employment subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Witnesses included gay Reps. Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin; four transgender people, including an aeronautics engineer; and a spokesman for Michigan-based Dow Chemical Co., one of more than 150 Fortune 500 companies with a non-discrimination policy on gender identity.

In addition, a lawyer specializing in discrimination litigation offered suggestions about legislative language that helps deter lawsuits. And lawyer Glen Lavy of the anti-gay Alliance Defense Fund argued employers who cite religious beliefs should be allowed to discriminate against a transgender person.

The hearing was an important first step in educating Congress about why Uncle Sam should guarantee transgender workers the right to be evaluated solely on ability.

Sabrina Taraboletti, who has two college-age kids, told of losing her job working on the space shuttle after announcing she was transitioning: "When I face discrimination, they face it, too. What happens to me because I am transgender also happens to them, not only because they love me, but because I still provide for them."

Why shouldn't there be a federal law?

Lawsuits? The retired colonel is suing now. In fact, having national guidelines with clear rules would help employers -- opening them up to a talented pool of workers while providing a roadmap for avoiding lawsuits.

Religious beliefs? Chairman Andrews left lawyer Lavy flustered after pushing him to explain whether his argument for religious immunity means white supremacists should be allowed to refuse to hire African Americans and pacifists should be able to refuse to hire military reservists.

Restrooms? There's no need to invent the wheel on this one. As transgender lawyer Shannon Minter pointed out, trans-affirming states and companies have found a simple rule works: Only after transitioning full-time to a new gender identity does the worker use the corresponding restroom.

"What we have seen, time and time again, is that any discomfort that co-workers may feel very quickly dissipates," Minter said.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., eloquently summed up why America should protect transgender workers. Evoking Martin Luther King Jr., she declared: "Laws cannot change people's hearts. But they can restrain the heartless."


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