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No Trans Workers at Senate ENDA Hearing

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The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will hold its first-ever hearing on a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act on Thursday at 10 a.m.

Testimony will be heard from seven witnesses -- five selected by Democrats and two by Republicans (the majority party typically gets two witnesses to every one witness for the minority party).

Only one witness is gay, and none is transgender. But a press conference held in advance of the hearing will include participants from the trans population, including Diane Schroer, a transgender woman who last year won a lawsuit against the Library of Congress for sex discrimination. Schroer said her prospective manager rescinded a job offer upon learning of Schroer's planned transition.

Mara Kiesling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, expressed measured concern over the lack of a transgender witness at Thursday's hearing.

"LGBT people always do better in our [educational efforts] when we're upfront about who we're trying to protect," she said. "In a hearing situation of this nature, it's always better to have testimony from those who have been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, and those who have been discriminated against because of their gender identity." Kiesling added that she was still upbeat about the historic hearing, however.

According to a Democratic aide, the witness list was organized so that it would provide four key elements: testimony from a representative of the Obama administration, legal analysis of the bill, perspective from an employer and a state government that have implemented protections, and personal testimony from an individual who experienced harassment or was fired from a job as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The time limitations of the hearing essentially left one spot open for testimony from an LGBT individual who had been affected by job discrimination. That person will be Mike Carney, a gay police officer from Springfield, Mass., who also testified in a 2007 ENDA hearing before a House committee.

The Transgender Law Center, however, will provide written testimony to be entered into the record, according to executive director Masen Davis.

"This hearing is a huge step forward in the fight against broad civil rights protection," said Julie Edwards, a spokesperson for Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, lead sponsor of the bill. "Senator Merkley is immensely proud to be leading this fight and we are looking forward to tomorrow being another step towards achieving equality and fairness for all Americans."

UPDATE: Exclusive with Capitol Hill staffer Diego Sanchez

Diego Sanchez, a transgender man who is a staffer for Rep. Barney Frank, told The Advocate Thursday morning that he was alarmed to find out that trans representatives had been omitted from Thursday's hearing.

"Learning that there would be no trans witnesses was a like a Ground Hog Day reality check," he said.

Sanchez heard the news Monday night when he got a phone call from Meghan Stabler, a trans woman who sits on the Board of Directors at the Human Rights Campaign and will be submitting written testimony today about experiencing workplace discrimination.

On Tuesday, Sanchez told his boss, Rep. Frank, who had not been informed of the decision, and he contacted Senate staffers from the Senate HELP committee and Sen. Jeff Merkley's office.

"I called to voice my extreme concern and opposition," Sanchez said. "I told them I was afraid it would signal that we are disposable."

The scenario is reminiscent of what happened with the House's first hearing on a trans-inclusive ENDA bill in 2007 when no trans individuals were on the witness list. Gender identity protections were eventually stripped out of that bill in a decision that pitted Rep. Frank, the House leadership, and HRC against grass roots LGBT organizations and activists.

The situation eventually precipitated an education process in the House that included a trans-specific hearing on employment discrimination in 2008, where Sanchez, who did not yet work for Rep. Frank, testified.

Sanchez said when he talked to the Senate staffers earlier this week, they said the decision had already been made but they would contact the LGBT lobby groups and discuss it again.

According to Sanchez and an HRC spokesperson, HRC also lobbied Senate staffers earlier this week for trans inclusion in the hearing.

"This was a wake-up call for me that we're not done educating people," Sanchez said. "If the biggest piece of discussion about this bill is gender identity, then it's only logical that you would want to cast the light on the one part that people understand the least."

Sen. Merkley joined several transgender and gay victims of employment discrimination Thursday morning at press conference prior to the hearing to discuss their experiences.

Hearing Witness List

Panel I
Tom Perez, assistant attorney general, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice
Panel II
Helen Norton, associate professor of law, University of Colorado School of Law, Boulder
Lisa Madigan, attorney general, state of Illinois
Virginia Nguyen, diversity and inclusion team member, Nike Inc., Beaverton, Ore.
Mike Carney, police officer, Springfield, Mass.
Craig Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel, National Religious Broadcasters Association, Manassas, Va.
Camille Olson, partner, Seyfarth Shaw LLP, Chicago

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