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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Why Transgender Workers Need The Equality Act

With a looming Supreme Court case centered on the rights of transgender workers, Congress can help end discrimination in the workplace.

It took Aimee Stephens months to write her coming out letter to her boss. She first spoke to her wife about her gender identity in 2009, but didn’t come out at work due to fear of how she’d be treated. In July 2013, nearly 20 years into her career, she handed him the envelope. Enclosed was the letter offering to answer any questions and her therapist’s card for a second opinion.

It was a difficult decision, but Aimee says, “You can, up to a point, compartmentalize everything into its own little square hole… until you get to that point: ‘I can’t do this anymore.’” Her boss took the letter and said he’d get back to her. A couple weeks later, he responded with a severance package.

Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon experience. The 2015 US Transgender Survey found that the unemployment rate among respondents was three times higher than the rate of the general U.S. population. Overall, 30% of recently employed respondents reported being fired or experiencing some other form of mistreatment related to their gender identity or expression.

Rampant employment discrimination limits opportunities for transgender people to make a living, which leads many trans people into income-based sex work. Sadly, this often places those workers in harm’s way. Just last month, Ashanti Carmon, a Black trans woman in DC was murdered on Eastern Avenue in Prince George’s County.

Growing up, her family struggled to accept Ashanti for who she was. By the age of 16, she began experiencing homelessness and joined a group of women earning money through sex work. Eventually, Ashanti’s life became more stable. She got engaged, found stable housing, and was able to only go out to Eastern Avenue for sex work on the weekends. It was far from perfect, but much better than her teenage years on the streets.

That all came to an end on the morning of March 30, when Ashanti was shot multiple times and pronounced dead at the scene. One of her friends noted, “She was there for her survival.” Everyone, including transgender people like Ashanti, deserves the right to experience economic freedom without having to endanger their life.

After being fired from her 30 year career in funeral services, Aimee Stephens filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who then sued the funeral home for sex discrimination. In March of 2018, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Aimee was unlawfully fired, ruling in line with decades of precedent that transgender people are covered by sex discrimination laws. However, just last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, setting us up for one of the most defining court rulings since marriage equality.

If the Supreme Court rules against Aimee and overturns the Sixth Circuit Court’s ruling, it would become lawful to fire trans people for being trans in all 26 states without explicit gender identity protections. Given the recent actions of this Supreme Court, the employment rights of transgender people in those states are at serious risk. Thankfully, there is a way for us to take this into our hands and protect the employment rights of transgender people: The Equality Act.

Employment discrimination against trans people is not just here or there, it appears throughout our workforce, throughout the country, and it forces trans people into dangerous and often violent conditions. Aimee’s case is not extreme, and Ashanti’s case is far from isolated.

It’s one reason why all 1.4 million transgender people in the US need The Equality Act. If passed, the Equality Act would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression, so that trans people are explicitly protected under the law. It would make it illegal to discriminate against trans people in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, credit, jury service, and federally-funded programs. Most importantly, it would send an important message throughout the country that transgender people are deserving of rights, fair treatment, and dignity.

The Equality Act alone won’t fix discrimination, but it would be a major tool in our fight for equality. Tell Congress to stop allowing hate to limit opportunity for transgender people and pass the Equality Act!

 

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