The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) held a conference call with former Navy SEAL Kristin Beck on July 10 to discuss the now-trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
Beck, who recently came out as transgender, and NTCE Executive Director Mara Keisling spoke about the ENDA bill (S.B. 815) at the Dirksen Senate Office building ahead of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee vote to send the bill to the full Senate for consideration.
"We are very excited that the Senate is doing this because there hasn't been any action on ENDA since 2010 when the HELP Committee held a hearing and there hasn't been a vote on ENDA in 17 years so we are long overdue for a vote," said Keisling.
Keisling explained the history of ENDA and what the bill will provide in the way of protections for LGBT workers across the country. Keisling noted that there hasn't been any conversations in Washington D.C. about stripping gender identity out of the bill.
"At NCTE we get calls every couple of days from a trans person who has faced job discrimination. Our national transgender discrimination survey painted a really sobering picture of the trans employment situation. The study showed an unemployment rate that is twice the national average and that trans people were four times more likely than the public to be living on less than $10,000/year," said Keisling.
Then Keisling introduced Beck, who shared a little bit of her backstory as a Navy SEAL, including her training and experience. Beck noted that passing the ENDA bill will mean a lot to her because she can show up in a dress and not get fired anywhere in the United States due to her gender identity.
During the Q&A session Keisling was asked about the bill's prospects on the floor of the Senate and in the U.S. House of Representatives. Keisling said the chances that the bill will pass in the Senate is more likely than the House. It is important to get this bill passed in the Senate since it's the first time ENDA with gender identity will have passed either chamber, noted Keisling.
Beck was asked how her coming out has affected the Special Ops community as well as the reaction she has had from her former colleagues. "When I first came out it was a shock but after awhile a lot of them [her former colleagues] started warming up. I got a lot of support from most of the [special ops] community," said Beck. "I look forward to the day when all of us are treated equally and right now we aren't ... Maybe one of these days we will have female SEAL Team members."
Beck was also asked if she has any advice for trans people who are currently serving in the military. She cautioned active duty military personnel who are transgender to hold off on coming out and starting hormone treatments because right now the military doesn't have a policy on transgender individuals, even after the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
A question was asked about why the focus has been on marriage equality and not workplace discrimination. Keisling voiced her support for marriage equality and indicated that it is easier to show why two people in love should be able to get married than it is to say don't fire LGBT people. Also, Keisling noted that there is a class bias in every movement and the LGBT movement is funded by people who are more interested in marriage equality than other LGBT issues such as ENDA. The marriage equality fight has helped other LGBT issues such as ENDA in the areas of political power, visibility and allies; Keisling noted.
After the conference call took place, the Senate HELP committee voted 15-7 to send S.B. 815 to the entire Senate. All Democrats on the committee voted yes as well as three Republicans: Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Orrin Hatch of Utah.
"We are extremely heartened that the Senate HELP committee passed ENDA today, moving it to the full Senate for action sometime this fall. With every committee Democrat and three Republicans voting yes, we are increasingly optimistic that we will have the 60 votes in the Senate and move further along towards winning relief for trans people who still face shocking amounts of job discrimination," said Keisling.
See www.transequality.org .