Blog of Rights

Why ENDA Matters: True Stories of Anti-LGBT Employment Discrimination from the ACLU

By Chris Hampton, ACLU LGBT Project at 10:45am

Why ENDA Matters: True Stories of Anti-LGBT Employment Discrimination from the ACLU

(This post originally appeared on The Bilerico Project.)

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 we received.

Laura Elena Calvo of Portland, Oregon

From 1980 to 1996, I worked for the Josephine County Sheriff's Office in Grant's Pass, Oregon. At the end of my employment, I held the rank of Sergeant, although, during the course of my employment, I was promoted often and worked in a variety of capacities including as a S.W.A.T. team commander and a detective in both the Major Crimes Unit and the Narcotics Task Force.

During my 16 years at the Sheriff's Office, I received numerous commendations, including commendations for removing an automobile accident victim from a burning vehicle, delivering a baby alongside a roadway, disarming an armed man intent on harming himself, and for the expertise and diligence shown in a number of complicated criminal cases. I was named Deputy of the Year in 1994, and I also taught law enforcement classes at Rogue Community College and at the Oregon Police Academy.

Apart from a distinguished employment record and career in law enforcement, from my earliest recollection at about age four, I felt I was very different than other boys. I would have preferred to be born female.

In my late teens, I felt the need to express my female gender identity, and I began to cross-dress in private. In the day, this sort of thing was shameful, confusing and considered counter-social. I compartmentalized that part of my identity, keeping it a very well-kept secret. I went out of my way to be sure that, when I did express my gender identity, it was such that it was very unlikely it would be discovered. I rented a storage locker in another city and another county where I kept my cross-dressing items.

On Labor Day 1995, I was on duty in an extremely remote area of Josephine County searching for a fugitive when a police dog attacked me, penetrating the bones in my leg with its teeth. I suffered major blood and tissue loss, and my injuries required emergency surgery. After this incident, I was put on administrative leave until my leg could heal.

Roughly a month after this attack, the storage unit I rented in Medford, Oregon, was broken into and the contents stolen. I was notified of the theft and requested to file a police report. Since this storage unit contained only my female effects and belongings, I felt I could not report the crime because I would need to provide a list of the stolen property. I also assumed the items would never be recovered anyways.

However, within a week of the break-in, my immediate supervisor called me into the Sheriff's Office for a meeting. Instead of an office, I was brought into one of our interrogation rooms where I was informed that the Medford Police Department had recovered my stolen property alongside some railroad tracks. I was told that I was personally identified from very personal intimate pictures contained within the property and that these pictures had been seen by both Medford County and Josephine County officers.

I was told by my supervisor that the Sheriff felt that I would no longer be able to perform my duties because of the fact I had been discovered to dress as a woman and that it would be a big mistake to try to come back to work.

In the spring of 1996 after my leg had healed, I was ordered to travel to Portland for a psychiatric determination for fitness of duty. I went before a panel of doctors, selected by the Sheriff's Office, who determined I was not fit to return to work. I was informed that the Sheriff, in conjunction with the County's Risk Manager and Attorney, were in the process of putting together a settlement offer in return for my resignation.

The direct impact of the discrimination I experienced has been devastating on so many levels. I don't have a college degree or any other skills except law enforcement. I tried working as a school bus driver and driving a senior citizen bus, but found the work unrewarding. I contacted attorneys, but they said I had no legal protections. Had employment non-discrimination laws been in effect, I likely would have continued serving the citizens of Josephine County to this day.

William "Bart" Birdsall of Tampa, Florida

I was hired in 1997 as a teacher and then a school librarian and medial specialist for the School District of Hillsborough County in Tampa, Florida.

In July 2005, I was involved in protesting the dismantling of a gay pride book display at the local public library. I was quoted in the local paper saying that I was upset that the book display was prematurely taken down, both as a gay man and a school librarian.

The school superintendent was concerned that I was quoted in the paper and proceeded to have my behavior reviewed by the school district's Professional Standards Office. Professional Standards decided not to punish me for taking part in protests but warned me not to bring the issue into the workplace. I have always taken my work very seriously, and to have my professionalism called into question was hurtful and upsetting.

I continue to work as a school librarian and have always received satisfactory or outstanding marks on evaluations. I have lots of anger about the incident and my therapist says I show signs of post-traumatic stress.

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.

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