We recently met with Sonia Barnes, the district representative for U.S. Representative Bob Etheridge. This was our second meeting in North Carolina. The meeting was a success, and could not have been so without the amount of people who graciously lent us their time as well as their stories.
Included in this group was HRC Governor and Steering Committee member Madeline Goss, who shared her powerful story regarding her gender transition in the workplace. Once Madeline had decided to transition, she went and spoke with her HR director to explain her decision. She was concerned that her position as an engineer at the company would not be secure. Initially, the company could not guarantee that Madeline’s transition would not affect her employment. After doing some research, Madeline found that her company did have a non-discrimination policy in effect that prevented her from being fired on the basis of her gender identity. Policies like these exist to protect people like Madeline, who are brave enough to be true to themselves day after day while heading into work, unsure whether or not they will be fired at any moment. Sadly, for millions of Americas these protections don’t exist. They are forced to choose between their jobs and being themselves.
Ian Palmquist, the executive director of the statewide LGBT civil rights organization Equality North Carolina, also joined us for the meeting. Ian shared about his partner who was fired for filing a complaint of workplace discrimination. Ian’s partner is just one of the hundreds of victims of workplace discrimination that have contacted Equality North Carolina.
Also attending was Sarah Preston, Policy Director of the ACLU, and Gary Palmer, a representative from the Replacements Limited company. Palmer spoke powerfully about of the effects that discrimination has on LGBT youth and about ending discrimination for the next generation.
Jake Wheeler, an Intern with HRC, also spoke on the effects of discrimination on LGBT youth. Wheeler has witnessed firsthand the hardship that goes along with being a young gay man looking for a job in today’s economy.
I think our stories truly touched Sonia Barnes. We asked her to thank Rep. Etheridge for voting for the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. I also took a moment to ask Sonia which way she thought Rep. Etheridge was going to vote on ENDA. The fact that she could not give our group a definite answer made one thing clear to us; we have more work to do.