by Barbara Sehr / seattlepi.com
Unlike the vast majority of observers of last summers “Dancing with the Stars,” I had not tuned in to see this “curiosity,” of a man, who came into life as the “daughter” of one of my favorite musical teams. Chas Bono has done much in the past year to bring our community in the public eye, and he is a splendid role model. Yet, after experiencing so much employment discrimination in my own post-transition era, I could only think of a recent song called “Are we dancer, or are we human?”
Today, that changes, at least in this administration. In a landmark decision, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that regulates the provisions of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, says that “intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender is, by definition, discrimination ‘based on … sex’ and such discrimination … violates Title VII.”
In short, we are human.
Readers of this space may remember that I traveled to Washington, DC, in 2010 to fight for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). For one week, I got to sit down with Congressional and White House leaders, and explain how my employment struggle has battered my life for nearly two decades. Even here in the State of Washington, supposedly one of the more progressive states, it is hard to deal with the elephant in the room during a job interview. Yes, the state now has its own anti-discrimination law that was put in place just six years ago. It took black people more than a century from the Emancipation Proclamation to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to establish certain inalienable rights. Even in this so-called “post-racial” society, some white people “stand their ground,” for non-threatening segregation forever.
In my prepared remarks for an address in Washington in the ENDA battle, I noted, “My resume often brings smiles to a hiring manager’s face like a $20 bill found in your coat pocket. Then comes the interview, and ecstasy becomes agony. My practiced 30-second elevator speech seems to rise no further than a quick body scan at the airport.”
Yesterday’s decision means that employers — especially those in the 34 states where folks like I could be fired for simply being who we are – will have to think harder about how to ignore us. Proving discrimination is very difficult; cases like the one that brought this decision come rarely. The decision also does not have the full force of law that passage of ENDA would bring. The EEOC is an agency of the executive branch, and its enforcement priorities could change from administration to administration. Passage of ENDA would put the full force of law up against those that feel gender identity is some sort of choice and not something to be protected.
Still, this monumental decision is a move toward hope. A new generation of young people has grown up with less need to label and trash those whose inner being is different from their own. Who knows, being as unique as I am, might one day not be unique. Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality said as much in her remarks following a recent mainstream television program highlighting some issues specific to our community: “I’m looking forward to the day when trans people are invited to Anderson Cooper 360, Up with Chris Hayes, and The Rachel Maddow Show to talk about Wall Street reform, getting our troops out of Afghanistan, and overturning Citizens United. Right now, trans people talking about trans issues is crucial. But I believe that our exceptional progress will ultimately be marked by the moment when who we are becomes unexceptional. Getting there is going to take more people like Melissa Harris-Perry helping us raise all our voices and tell America our stories.”