Editors' Note: To illustrate why Congress must pass the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA), a federal law that would ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the workplace, we will be posting the firsthand accounts of people from across the nation who have been fired, refused a job, or harassed in the workplace because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This summer the ACLU put out a call for stories, and these are just a fraction of stories they received.
Brianne Rivera of Hollywood, Florida
I was hired as a Technical Support Specialist for Broward College in August 2007. Computer repair is my passion, and I liked the job because I could use my technical knowledge and experience to troubleshoot computer hardware and software on a daily basis. I also learned to like the social interaction between myself and the users whose computers I was repairing. I was given a letter stating that I was dependable, able to work independently and a skilled technician.
About two months prior to my firing from the college, I came out to my boss as a transgender lesbian. I told him that I was undergoing hormone therapy and that I would be transitioning on the job.
On Friday, March 27th, 2009, I was called on my day off and asked to come in to work for two hours in order to attend a technical staff meeting. As I was provided only four uniforms and I had worked the four previous days, my uniforms were in the washing machine. I informed my boss of this and said I would come in but that it would be in women's clothes (which up until this point I had not worn to work). He agreed that that was fine, so I left to attend the meeting.
When I arrived on campus, I started getting multiple hostile looks from faculty and staff, as they only knew me as a man. This made me feel uncomfortable and a bit scared. I called one of the other technicians who I was friendly with in order to meet up with him and have some safety by being around someone accepting. But, as soon as I started to explain what was happening, he hung up. This freaked me out, so I dialed my friend back multiple times, but he wouldn't pick up.
My boss was standing next to my friend when I was repeatedly calling, and he asked my friend who kept calling him so many times. My boss claimed that these calls were harassment, and so he moved me to another shift. Unfortunately, the new shift interfered with all of my support group, psychological therapy and speech therapy appointments. It was critical to the treatment of my gender identity disorder that I make these appointments; so I had to choose between my job with Broward College and continuing my transition.
Since the incident occurred, my finances have suffered dramatically, as I still am unemployed. Over the previous six years, I had saved over $14,000 to use towards my gender reassignment surgery. I've had to spend a lot of my savings, and, now, I may be forced to give up on transitioning altogether because soon I won't be able to afford my medications and doctors' visits.
Marlin Earl Bynum of Irving, Texas
I was originally hired in the summer of 2006 as a mathematics teacher for the Keller Learning Center, an alternative public high school in Keller, Texas. All of my evaluations for the last three years have been "exceeds expectations," which is the highest rating one can receive. I have also been named teacher of the month. In 2008, I was asked to get qualified to teach special education, which I did, so I am now the special education teacher for our school.
Two years ago, I had a student ask me directly if I was gay, and I said yes. I was called into the assistant principal's office and warned not to disclose my sexual orientation to students. She warned me that I endanger myself and my job by being out.
In response to this, I wrote a letter explaining that I wouldn't hide being gay because I would not send the message to a student that it was something to be ashamed of. As a result, I had three students removed from my classroom because their parents were upset about my sexual orientation.
Another time, I mentioned to my assistant principal that I wanted to learn to dance Country and Western. She offered to teach me, and I said I needed to learn to lead and follow, as that is what gay men do when dancing. In response, she said, "Eww, Marlin," and immediately changed the subject. Also, last year, my request to have a diversity training was denied by the assistant principal.
These homophobic incidents have made me feel increasingly isolated. The more I try to be open at work about my sexual orientation, the more I am persecuted. I interact with my fellow teachers on a professional basis, but I have learned to keep personal life and interaction to a minimum because I realize now that it is too problematic to try and educate people about LGBT discrimination.
If you want to learn more about the ACLU's work to support ENDA, check out the letter the ACLU sent to the House Education and Labor Committee. And please urge your Representative and Senators to support the bill.