June 7, 2012 at 11:32 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
First trans witness ever to testify before Senate on ENDA

An openly transgender person for the first time is set to testify before the Senate on Tuesday about the lack of federal employment LGBT non-discrimination protections and the need to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, according to a committee notice published Thursday.

Kylar Broadus, founder of the Columbia, Mo., based Trans People of Color Coalition, is scheduled be among five witnesses who’ll speak during the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee hearing titled, “Equality At Work: The Employment Non-Discrimination Act.” The hearing is set to begin at 10 am, Room 106 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

According to his bio of the TPOCC website, Broadus is an attorney who hails from Missouri and founded the organization in 2010. He’s written essays of transgender rights, won awards for LGBT advocacy, is a board member of the National Black Justice Coalition and was formerly on the board for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.

Broadus is the first transgender person to testify before the Senate. A previous Senate hearing in 2009 had no transgender witnesses. A House hearing at around the same time featured testimony from Vandy Beth Glenn, who was fired from her job at the Georgia General Assembly for being transgender.

Other witnesses that Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) selected for the hearing are M. V. Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles; Samuel Bagenstos, a law professor at University of Michigan; and Ken Charles, vice president of diversity and inclusion, General Mills, Inc.

The Republican witness is Craig Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Religious Broadcasters Association. Parshall had already testified in 2009 against ENDA.

Absent from the witness list is any Obama administration official. Members of the administration testified before the House and Senate in 2009: Stuart Ishimaru, then-acting chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, testified before the House and Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, testified before the Senate.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Obama administration wasn’t invited to testify.

“While the administration was not invited to testify, we welcome Chairman Harkin’s hearing to examine this important issue,” the official said. “The president has long supported an inclusive ENDA.”

Justine Sessions, a HELP committee spokesperson, said the committee has already heard from the Obama administration on ENDA.

“Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez testified at our last hearing on ENDA and fully endorsed the bill, as the White House did just recently,” Sessions said. “The focus of this hearing is putting a human face on the discrimination LGBT Americans face, which is why the Committee invited witnesses like Kylar Broadus, a transgender American who has experienced discrimination.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, praised Harkin for his selection of witnesses. Almeida said he worked with Senate staff to identify and vet witnesses for the hearing.

“Senator Tom Harkin and his staff have done an excellent job assembling an impressive and diverse panel of witnesses who will clearly outline the ongoing problem of workplace harassment and discrimination against LGBT Americans and explain how ENDA will give all Americans the freedom to work without fear of unfair treatment on the job,” Almeida said.

Almeida had harsh words for Parshall, who will likely reiterate his opposition to ENDA during the hearing, as has done in the past.

“The Republicans are phoning-in their opposition to ENDA by calling the exact same witness that already testified at the fall 2009 House and Senate hearings on ENDA,” Almeida said. “It shows that Republicans can’t find anyone willing to testify under oath in opposition to ENDA, which is supported by super-majorities of the American public. I predict Republican witness Craig Parshal is going to recycle his poorly written testimony for a third time, possibly only changing the date at the top of what he wrote three years ago.”

Almeida predicted that Parshall would criticize the religious exemption in ENDA, saying any  such criticism would “undercut the votes” of House Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who while in minority in 2007 all voted for the religious exemption as an amendment on the floor.

While Almeida served as counsel in the House of Representatives, he and another House attorney drafted the current religious exemption, which was affirmed by a vote of 402-25 in a vote that occurred on the floor of the House in November 2007 in an amendment offered by then House Education & Labor Committee Chair George Miller (D-Calif.).

According to Almeida, Republicans had the opportunity to select two witnesses for the hearing, but only one was chosen because another person who would testify against ENDA couldn’t be found. The minority spokesperson for the Senate HELP Committee didn’t respond to a request to comment on the assertion.

In addition to the hearing, LGBT advocates have been calling on the committee to markup the legislation to send it to the Senate floor. All 12 Democrats on the panel — in addition to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) — are co-sponors of the bill, so it should have no problem getting out of committee.

It’s possible the idea of an executive order requiring federal contractors to have non-discrimination policies for LGBT workers could come up at hearing. In April, the White House announced it wouldn’t issue such an executive order at this time, but LGBT advocates have been pressuring the administration to reconsider the decision.

Badgett, one of the scheduled witnesses, has written an op-ed piece for The New York Times calling on Obama to issue the executive order. The Williams Institute is among the organizations that have continued to consult with the administration after the decision was announced against issuing the executive order.

Commentary on the executive order could also come from Charles because of the company he represents. A federal contractor that won nearly $200 million in federal money in the last fiscal year, General Mills has non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • This may be a first for the stodgy Senate, but plenty of trans folk have testified in the House of Representatives. Although it’s great to finally break through another barrier, because the Repiglicans control the House, nothing is going to come of this. Why people continue to vote for these idiots, whose method of governing is to block virtually everything (or NOT govern), is a mystery to me.

  • I wish I had reason to believe this would amount to anything.

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