The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions accepted testimony on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act Tuesday.
The occasion marked the first time that an openly transgender person has testified before the Senate. No Republican legislators attended.
ENDA, which has been stalled in both chambers of Congress for years, would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity at companies with more than 15 employees.
The hearing was announced shortly after Pennsylvania’s Sen. Bob Casey (D), a cosponsor of the bill, and other lawmakers pressed committee leadership on the issue.
In a statement released Tuesday, Casey said he’s eager for the legislation to move forward.
“I hope that this is the first step toward swift and bipartisan passage in both the Senate and the House,” he said. “ENDA embodies the American ideal of fairness: Employees should be judged on their skills and abilities in the workplace and not on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Among the witnesses were attorney Kylar Broadus, founder and executive director of Trans People of Color Coalition, who talked about his own experiences of discrimination as a transgender employee.
After his transition nearly 20 years ago, Broadus said he was forced out of his position at a major financial agency and faced workplace harassment that left him with post-traumatic stress disorder that he still struggles with.
He said his financial losses over the years have also been great due to un- and underemployment.
“I’m one of the fortunate people who is employed. But there are many more like me who are not employed as a result of just being who they are,” he said. “It’s devastating, demoralizing and dehumanizing to be in that position.”
The committee also heard from Dr. M.V. Lee Badgett, research director at the University of California, Los Angeles, who briefed lawmakers on the state of employment discrimination throughout the country.
“Research overwhelming demonstrates that ENDA is necessary to fight discrimination and would benefit both employees and employers,” she testified.
Also testifying were University of Michigan law professor Samuel Bagenstos and General Mills vice president of diversity and inclusion Ken Charles.
Craig Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel for National Religious Broadcaster Association, was the sole witness to testify against ENDA.
In his opening statement, committee chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), an ENDA cosponsor, pointed to the commonsense need for the measure.
“It’s long past time we eliminate bigotry in the workplace and ensure equal opportunities for all Americans,” he said. “It’s time to make clear that LGBT Americans are first-class citizens. They are full and welcomed members of our American family, and they deserve the same civil-rights protections as all other Americans.”
Also Tuesday, Freedom to Work, which advocates for LGBT workplace protections, sent an open letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) calling for a full Senate vote on ENDA this summer.
Jen Colletta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.