Last week, the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights held a briefing entitled “Examining Workplace Discrimination Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Americans” (you can watch the first panel here). Its purpose was to discuss the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would extend Federal anti-discrimination coverage to the categories of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”
Among other things, the proceedings demonstrate a specific reason why opposition to the measure is so difficult. It is signaled well by the oral testimony of Mara Keisling, Executive Director of National Center for Transgender Equality, which you can read and which you can watch starting at 5:26:30. The power of the testimony is simple. Human beings, our fellow citizens, are suffering profound distress.
What I most want the Commission to understand today is that right now, in 2015, transgender people are traumatized. They’re traumatized economically, culturally and physically.
In my 15 year career in this movement, I’ve never seen our community this way and I want to tell you about it.
. . . transgender people are under siege and traumatized economically with an unemployment rate twice the national average. We are four times more likely than non-transgender people to live on less than $10,000 a year. And for transgender people who live at the intersection of transphobia and other kinds of marginalization like racism, or ableism or ageism, it is so much worse than that.
. . . as we win so much positive policy change—the policy advances that my colleagues here have talked about—it remains true that every day real tragedies are happening to lots of real transgender people. People are dying.
But what I really want you to understand today is that transgender people in 2015 are under siege, are on edge, are traumatized, and I thank you very much for having us here today.
What argument can be made against this cry of the heart? Who wants to stand up and deny suffering? The preceding person on the panel spoke against the ENDA revisions by noting mostly the costly and unreasonable litigation that will follow, but you can see how feeble that objection is relative to the pain of these vulnerable souls. So some businesses have to pay a few dollars more—isn’t that worth the healing that will go with it?
Given our current cultural climate and the values of equality, diversity, tolerance, and non-judgmentalism, I see no effective answer to these emotional pleas. There are principled answers, yes, but none that pass muster in public settings.
Mark Bauerlein is senior editor of First Things.