Kylar Broadus, a lawyer and professor at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, MO, became the first transgender witness to testify before the Senate on Tuesday.
Broadus, a long time transgender activist , testified before the Senate Senate Health and Labor Committee during a hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
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If passed, ENDA would ban discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender people in hiring and in the workplace.
A recent study, "Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey," found that discrimination against transgender people was a very real problem in America.
According to the study, transgender people experienced unemployment at twice the rate of the general population. Ninety percent of transgender people surveyed reported experiencing harassment or discrimination on the job or had to take actions to avoid it.
Broadus testified Tuesday about his experience working at a large insurance company in the 1990's. When he transitioned, he said, he was harassed and later fired.
"While my supervisors could tolerate a somewhat masculine-appearing black woman, they were not prepared to deal with my transition to being a black man," he said.
And Broadus soon found he had no legal recourse, as transgender people in the workplace weren't covered under any discrimination laws. He said he has never fully recovered financially.
ENDA, a bill that would have protected Broadus, has been introduced in every congressional session since 1994. While activists don't think ENDA has any chance under the current Congress, they are optimistic about the bill's passage in the near future.
"We used to be begging senators to include us in ENDA," Mara Keisling, founding Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told Whispers. "Now we have senators enthusiastically supporting us."
Senators attending the hearing Tuesday included Jeff Merkeley (D-Ore), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Al Franken (D-Minn), and Patty Murray, (D-Wash).
The Obama administration has also come out in favor of ENDA.
Trans people have testified before the House in previous years, but never in front of the Senate.
Keisling said the choice of Broadus to testify was important in more than one way.
"I am incredibly pleased Merkeley picked someone of Kylar's stature, and a person of color," she said. "It showed an understanding of ...what it's like to face transphobia and racism on top of that."
According to the "Injustice at Every Turn" survey, transgender people of color face up to four times the national unemployment rate.