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

Chris Hampton,
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October 19, 2009

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 J. Doty, Boise, Idaho
I was hired in April 1997 as an adult probation officer in Power County, Idaho. I was closeted except for my direct supervisor, who had no problem with my sexuality. It was a professional environment, and my peer reviews indicated I was respected and did a good job. I liked being able to help people overcome difficulties and improve themselves. I had letters of recommendation from the prosecuting attorney, a letter of recommendation from my direct supervisor, and positive reviews from a judge and the public defender.

In September of 1997, I ran into a co-worker from the county building at a store and introduced my partner to her. Two days later, the Power County Commissioners called me in and told me I was unhappy at work and I could quit or be fired. I said they would have to fire me.

After I was fired, I immediately called the Human Rights Commission in Boise, and they told me I had no basis to make a claim because sexual orientation is not a protected status. I was devastated because I considered myself a dedicated employee and hard worker. I cared about my probationers, and I worked very hard to help them succeed, whether in getting a GED or staying in a 12-step program.

My partner at the time was in graduate school, so we struggled financially after I lost the job.

Gypsey Teague, Pendleton, South Carolina
In 2002, I was hired as the branch librarian for the Oklahoma City Branch of Langston University, Oklahoma’s only historically black university. I have both an MLS and an MBA and so, not only was I the library director, but I also taught classes in the business department.

In late 2004, after I had been successfully employed at the university for almost three years, I decided to begin the process of transitioning from male to female. The administration was very accommodating, both in supportive words and in providing generous leave, which made my transition very easy. I spoke with the campus director, my library director, and the Vice President of Academic Affairs. All three were helpful, and promised to support me and help in creating a smooth transition. I was pleased, but not surprised, to find that this historically black university understood issues of diversity. With their encouragement, I took an extended vacation over the Christmas holiday to finalize my transition. When I returned, I conducted myself as a woman, professionally and properly dressed at all times, and afforded myself of the bathroom of my new gender. Things went extremely well, and I felt that success in both my professional life and my personal life.

I went to a professional conference in February 2005. When I returned, I was stunned to learn that a student had circulated a hate-filled petition calling for my removal from campus, and had posted offensive flyers around the campus. Various reasons were cited, but all were related to my transgender identity. I never saw the actual petition but there were over 100 copies circulated throughout the small campus building. I spoke with the campus director, and asked for his assistance in removing the offensive flyers. I was stunned to hear him say that the student had a right to freedom of speech, and that he could and would do nothing. In fact, when other students also complained about these hateful flyers as being inappropriate, he went so far as to support the right of the students to pass out the flyers.

The very next day, the campus director issued a rule that all faculty and staff must use the bathrooms in the break room, at the other end of the building, and not the student bathrooms across the hall from the library. Surprised by this, I noticed that none of the other faculty were adhering to this policy. When I mentioned this to the director, he told me that he could not control the actions of all faculty and staff, but that I would adhere to the policy or be disciplined.

The petition-circulating student, encouraged by the administration’s failure to support me, circulated another petition, this one stating that God wished me dead, and expressing the hope that something to this effect should happen. I spoke to several high-level administrators, who I was sure would see reason at this point. Instead, they told me my concerns were unwarranted, and to stop causing drama. Then, suddenly and surprisingly, my teaching schedule for the summer was changed to the late-night 7:30-10:00 p.m. time slot. This meant I would be the last instructor to leave the building, and I would have to exit into an empty parking lot in a dangerous section of the city.

I decided to apply for a job at another college, even though it would require relocating. In May 2005, I left Langston University and accepted a position as branch head of the Architecture Library at Clemson University in South Carolina. Having to relocate was difficult because my mother was in a nursing home in Oklahoma and she passed away there before I could return to see her.

Had the administrators who were charged with my welfare stood up and supported me in the face of mean-spirited prejudice, I think I would have been able to stay and to prosper. When they failed to take decisive action, I was forced to choose between my safety, both emotional and physical, and my job.

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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