June 26, 2008

Liveblogging the first-ever congressional hearing on trans issues.

Whee! We're excited! You can watch the live webcast here (or just read my brilliant commentary below - keep refreshing the page). More about the hearing and witnesses here. This is historic, exciting, and we are here to keep you in the loop, even if you're secretly reading us at work. ;-)

1:45: This concludes your liveblog of the first-ever congressional hearing on trans rights in the workplace. I think it was generally awesome, and the witnesses did an amazing job. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below! Now, I should really go eat some lunch. And maybe do some work.

1:42: As the hearing wraps up, Sabrina Taraboletti goes over to Mr. Lavy. He says that he hopes she finds a job soon. She says, "I do too. And on a personal note, I am a practicing Catholic -" And then the feed cuts out. I sure would like to have heard the end of that conversation.

1:39: Rep. Andrews is wrapping things up. He stresses "job ability and work ethic." He promises a vigorous debate about these issues, and how to "accommodate reasonable concern of employers in the workplace" and religion issues. But he doesn't think it's that complicated - if the person is the best for the job, they should get the job. He notes that "progress in this country is glacial" but encourages optimism, given progress made in terms of rights for women and people of color. He notes that when Rep. Payne was born, that he might serve in the House was unthinkable. He said that he had gay classmates who killed themselves. Things will change over time. Hearing is adjourned.

1:37: Ms. Miller is angry because someone suggested she didn't understand the link between discrimination against trans people and the discrimination against women! She knows about sexual harassment! But she also had mentors who were men! She went to a women's college!

1:30: Rep. Hare takes issue with Mr. Lavy. Excellent. He reminds Mr. Lavy about this guy from a long time ago who hung around with those people who no one wanted to associate themselves with. I think you know who that is. He also believes we can legislate "what is right, what is just and what is fair."

1:28: Diego says that part of it is to "consider us a partner" and work together across the country. Help "make it safe for us to be with you in communities." Sabrina Marcus Taraboletti mentions that the National Center for Transgender Rights, the Task Force and others are available to help out.

1:25: Rep. Payne wants to reassure everyone that there was no "conspiracy" to start the hearing late. There was voting that didn't get finished yesterday. Now he forgot what he wanted to ask. Laughter. Oh - how can we educate Americans?

1:23: Shannon Minter is annoyed by all these restroom questions. C'mon, let's listen to "medical protocol and common sense." Transgender men and women are men and women, and coworkers will quickly come to recognize that. This is a straightfoward issue. Ms. Miller says that maybe it would be a good idea to look at policies about bathrooms that already work. What a novel idea!

1:20: Rep. Payne is here! He is "opposed to all forms of discrimination."

1:18: Colonel Schroer says that this is a similar situation to gays in the military, where a very qualified pool of people are passed over. She notes that such discrimination is common, both in blatant and more "obtuse" forms. We need to send a message that being transgender is "not abnormal or abhorrent."

1:13: Rep. Linda Sanchez is NOT scared of litigation! She thinks people should be protected from on-the-job abuse and harassment. She asks Shannon Minter to elaborate. He notes that laws "make it perfectly clear to everyone...that we as a society condemn discrimination on these basis because they are completely unrelated to someone's abilities..." In the absence of such laws, we have "blatant, shocking" discrimination, like the type described on the panel today. Rep. Sanchez thanks Colonel Schroer for her service to the country and asks her what the country misses out on by denying her job opportunities.

1:07: Time for Rep. Kline. He notes that Mr. Andrews has really enjoyed trying to determine which is the best law school. He wants Ms. Miller to tell him about the distinction between "regarded as" and "perceived as." "Perceived" is "vague language" that can cause "a great deal of confusion" among "managers and human resources people" and of course, litigation. Litigation! How scary! We can't legislate people being nice to each other or their internal thoughts and processes. Um. What? I thought we were talking about not being fired for being trans.

What about white supremacists? Should they have the right to refuse to hire a person of color, if they held deeply held religious beliefs about white supremacy? Lavy says no. Hypocrisy! The Chairman wants to know why, if we do not allow religious beliefs to excuse racial discrimination, we should allow religious beliefs to excuse discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. Mr. Lavy says the issue isn't that simple. It's about "deeply held religious beliefs." The "race issue" is something that has been determined already, apparently.

What about pacificists? Could they refuse to hire a Marine Corps veteran? The Chairman is getting a little out there with the hypotheticals. Levy says the pacifists should be able to refuse to hire the Marine Corps guy.

1:00: Apparently Mr. Lavy thinks that accommodating a transgender person is like "making an Orthodox Jew eat pork." The Chairman wants to know if an Orthodox Jew could refuse to employ a Catholic. Mr. Lavy says no. One point for Rep. Andrews.

12:59: The Chairman thanks all the witnesses. He also introduces a letter about fair business practices and notes attendees from Garden State Equality. Now, he's going to take on Mr. Lavy. Exciting!

12:54: Shannon Minter, Legal Director for National Center for Lesbian Rights, is the last witness. He is testifying about the "urgent need for a federal law to protect transgender persons." He talks about workplace discrimination, citing the case of Susan Stanton. He says that we "need more than a patchwork of state and local laws and policies." In most parts of the country, transgender people who are fired or harassed at work for being transgender have no legal protection. This leads to transgender people being forced into "persistent, chronic poverty and homelessness." We need Congress to "take action to protect us."

12:48: Sabrina Marcus Taraboletti, Former Space Shuttle Engineer, is the next witness. She was fired in 2003 after announcing she was transitioning from male to female. She was told the investigation and subsequent firing was the result of an "anonymous" phone call. She was the fourth transwoman she knew of who was either fired or forced out before leaving. One of those women took her own life. There are no standard policies or procedures on these issues at the Space Center, because there are no federal laws on them, so things were left up to the whims of supervisors. She felt humiliated, and was fired with no severance pay after 20 years of employment. She still has not been able to find a new position in the space program, the field that she loves. Sabrina says that "being transgender is something you are born with." She notes that being fired also made it difficult for her to provide for her family, and her loss of self-esteem affected them too. "It needs to stop," she says.

12:46: We're back to restrooms. People have "genuine privacy concerns." He says there are "men who are are allowed to use women's restrooms before having gender reassignment surgery." No, those are actually WOMEN. Restrooms pose a risk to employers. He doesn't want the committee to make a "moral judgment" on "transgendered people," but he doesn't want them to make the moral decision for other people. Or something. OK, he's done. Thank you.

12:44: Some employers might not be able to accommodate people in restrooms. Now he's talking about "actual or perceived" discrimination. How problematic! Employers could be sued at any moment! Gender identity is a "subjective category." Unlike race, which the employer can "simply tell by observation." More about religious beliefs.

12:43: Glen Lavy, Senior Counsel for Alliance Defense Fund, is gently hassled for not having gone to Cornell Law before proceeding to tell us why trans people shouldn't have protections under non-discrimination laws. He's already used the word "immoral." Right on schedule. Some employers have "deeply held religious beliefs about these issues."

12:41: DOW's policies emphasize good communication between transitioning employees and their supervisor, as well as training for coworkers and updating company documents. He says "on the whole, our program has gone remarkably well."

12:38: Dr. Hendrix is up! DOW has 4,300 employees. Diversity "underpins our workplace." He knows that "creating a respectful, inclusive working environment" actually "gives us an advantage." He says that his LGBT employees often have more protection under DOW's policy than under state laws, and that his policies improve retention and commitment of LGBT employees and allies. They first added "sexual orientation" in 2000 and "gender identity" in 2005, and this has been implemented globally for the company.

12:36: Men might be looking through holes in the women's bathroom! I was wondering when that would come up. We need to "have some sensitivity to the employer." OK, she's done. But still concerned.

12:33: Unclear statutes can cause lawsuits! You better be careful. Gender identity and transgender are unclear terms. "Mannerism" is a disturbing term! She's "concerned" about "perpetuating stereotypes." Haha! Like, what if someone gives a firm handshake. Mannerisms can be changed but "intrinsic characteristics" can't. Um.

12:31: After some banter with the Chairman about whose law school is the best, JC Miller, Partner at Thompson Hine, is here to tell us about "unintended legal obstacles" that "cause a disruption in the workplace." You know what that means.

12:29: He talks about a friend, Ethan St. Pierre (who runs the Remembering Our Dead web site), who lost his job for being transgender, about friends who have to show IDs that do not match their gender. He talks about growing up in the South where he was not allowed to swim in public pools because he was not white. This, he said, "feels like a flashback." He asks people to treat others as they would want to be treated and concludes his testimony. Yay Diego!

12:26: He talks about living as a transgender Latino man, about growing up in a military family in Georgia, and about his family supporting his gender identity. He worked in many corporate companies, including Coca Cola, Holiday Inn and others worldwide. He waited to transition because he was afraid of being who he was: "Diego Sanchez, an honorable man." He said that he "struggled to have self-respect in a world that would seemingly never allow someone like me...I could be honest about everything except myself."

12:25: Diego!! AHH! An amazing guy.

12:24: The Library made many claims why she could not be hired, all of them clearly false. Colonel Schroer says that she hopes every day that the Library will call and tell her they made a mistake, and she can continue serving her country as she has so well.

12:22: Colonel Schroer applied for a position at the Library of Congress working on CRS reports, while in the position of transitioning from male to female. She was hired almost immediately. She had lunch with her future supervisor, and told her of plans to transition from male to female. Her supervisor called her the next day and said that she was "not a good fit" for the library.

12:19: Diane Schroer, Retired Colonel, US Army, is the first witness. She is talking about her vast military experience, including humanitarian de-mining operations in Southern Africa, Special Operations work and programs all over the world. She has done basically every homeland security, counter-terrorism, classified, top-secret military thing ever.

12:17: The Chairman is reading the list of witnesses. He also notes that Cornell Law School is the best in the country, although he may be biased. The speakers will have a green, yellow and red lights to signal their time to speak.

12:15: We're back!

11:48: Still recessed. Hang in there. How is everyone's Thursday going? Leave me some comments.

11:32: The Chairman thanks Rep. Frank and says that he tries to determine the content of hearings by the "depth of the grievance suffered." The committee is adjourning briefly for some people to go make votes on the Floor. Stay tuned.

11:29: Barney notes that if you are uncomfortable, how do you think trans people feel?! He's not asking for you to take anyone to the movies. Just "let em work!"

11:26: Barney says some stuff about how sometimes stuff need to happen incrementally. I think this is about that ENDA thing. The burden of proof is on the person charging discrimination and the disruption argument "just doesn't work." When he first realized he was gay, he made himself uncomfortable. But he got used to it! And so did other people!

11:24: He notes that he doesn't buy the "redundancy" argument (that trans people are already covered under other legislation). He notes that his colleagues are rarely reluctant to use a few extra words. And he also doesn't buy the "it could be disruptive" argument.

11:23: He notes that his colleagues often feel "trapped in the wrong body" when their legislation goes to the Senate. Laughter.

11:22: Barney Frank. He thanks the Chairman for making this hearing a priority.

11:21: She says that it is "high time" that American "declared discrimination based on gender identity and expression to be unlawful." Did I mention we love her?

11:18: She notes that hate crimes against trans Americans are "tragically common" and that trans people also face discrimination in the "mundane and everyday." She talks about having to choose in her own life to live "with truth and integrity" as an out lesbian, and the way that Wisconsin's non-discrimination law made a difference for her. She says, "the importance of non-discrimination laws cannot be overstated." They tell people to "judge your fellow citizen by their integrity, talents...rather than their sexual orientation or gender identity...that irrational fear, irrational hate, have no place in our workplaces."

11:15: Tammy Baldwin is speaking. We love her. She wants to clarify why people want workplace protections that do not "leave behind the smallest and most vulnerable part of our community." She defines gender identity, and explains how it differs from sexual orientation. She notes that there are thousands of trans Americans who lead "incredibly successful" lives, as parents, community organizers, defense contractors and much more.

11:14: Barney Frank is on the first panel. The Chairman notes that he has a great sense of humor. Tammy Baldwin (!!!) is also on the first panel. The Chairman says she is a great listener in "divisive" situations. I believe that was an ENDA reference.

11:13: Rep. Kline says he's looking forward to the hearing. He wants his statement recorded.

11:11: He also notes that ENDA was passed without protection for transgender people, and that he believes it should, and then says some nice things about minority leader Rep. Kline.

11:10: Chairman Rep. Andrews notes that someone's "presentation" is an "irrelevant prejudicial criteria" and that it has nothing to do with how someone "writes code...or fixes someone's car" and that people should be judged on their performance at work. Rock on!

11:09: Chairman Rep. Andrews thanks everyone for coming. He says, in all likelihood, someone today will apply for a job and be denied because an employer does not like the way they look. He says that someone will be denied a promotion because an employer is uncomfortable. He notes that this is legal under federal law.

11:08: The hearing is starting!

11:01: The video feed says:"Will begin shortly." And the most recent liveblog updates will now appear at the top of the post.

11:00: OK! Exciting news. The video feed now says: "Committee on Education and Labor, Health Employment and Labor Subcommittee Hearing on "An Examination of Discrimination Against Transgender Americans in the Workplace."' We're getting started!

: The amendment does not pass. A substitute is agreed to. Now there's another roll-call vote. Stay tuned.

10:51: The clerk is calling the roll on the price amendment. He tells Chairman Miller to settle down. Laughter.

10:48: Now they're voting on a fox amendment. Or something. But we're still excited! The people sitting behind the clerk look sleepy.

: Ah, they are voting on a price amendment. Exciting stuff.

10:45: Rep. Bishop wanders in late and is gently chastised for his tardiness and told not to push his luck. He votes.

10:35: Dennis Kucinich is involved! We love him! They are voting on something. Everyone is voting no. Now they are voting "ay" and "no." I'm not sure what this is about. Hopefully things will get more exciting.

10:30 am: The video player says we are recessed.


Emilia said...

Hurry up and wait. I'm afraid to leave my desk for fear that they will start.

maggie said...

thanks for doing this!

icarus said...

maggie said...

thanks for doing this!

you're very welcome! i hope it's helpful/entertaining. ;-)

tara said...

I loved the part when Sabrina Taraboletti was wrapping up and said that she was "still" a practicing Catholic, and as she did so, briefly glared in the direction of Glen Lavy! Whoo! :- )

maudite entendante said...

I hate how some people act like discrimination based on perceived characteristics is this wacky, out-there idea that nobody's ever tried before. Hello - the ADA has prohibited discrimination based on perceived disability since its inception, and the legal system hasn't yet collapsed under the burden of figuring out what that means.

Also, what was with all the Cornell jokes? *is puzzled*

When he first realized he was gay, he made himself uncomfortable.

... priceless. (Does this mean I have to start liking Barney Frank again?)

icarus said...

Also, what was with all the Cornell jokes? *is puzzled*

Chairman Rep. Andrews is a Cornell Law grad and is apparently quite proud of the fact. :-)

Jake Twist said...

I kind of love Chairman Rep. Andrews, I'm not going to lie. Excellent liveblogging as usual icarus :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the liveblog! If I could, I would vote for Rep Andrews!

icarus said...

Thanks for the liveblog! If I could, I would vote for Rep Andrews!

you're welcome - and me too!

Ryan said...

I had given up on finding a play by play - this is *awesome.* Thanks!!!

icarus said...

I had given up on finding a play by play - this is *awesome.* Thanks!!!

Of course. Glad to help! :-)