Vandy Beth Glenn was fired in 2007 when she informed her boss her boss that she was a trans woman with plans to begin her transition. With Lambada Legal, she has since launched a federal lawsuit against her former employer, the Georgia General Assembly. (Yes, you did in fact read that correctly — her employer was a government body.) In an interview, she said:
“Mr. Brumby told me that people would think I was immoral. He told me I would make other people uncomfortable, just by being myself. He told me that my transition was unacceptable. And over and over, he told me it was inappropriate.”
Then, Brumby fired Glenn.
“I’m not sure I was really thinking anything in that moment other than utter shock,” Glenn told ABCNews.com. “That he was so matter of fact about it blew my mind.”
Now, Sewell Brumby has actually confessed to firing Glenn on the basis of her gender identity, while still claiming to have done no wrong (warning: transmisogynistic/transphobic language contained in the quoted text):
During the deposition, Brumby describes Glenn, who is referred to in court documents by her pre-transition name of [redacted], as not being very good at her job and not particularly well-liked. Brumby said several times that Glenn’s transition would have been disruptive to his workplace.
“I think it would have been, I suppose, an unusual and notorious event. And I think when unusual and notorious events happen in the workplace it distracts the people in that workplace and takes away from the performance of their job duties,” he said.
Although the legislative cousel office has four one-stall gender-neutral bathrooms, Brumby was concerned about what would happen if Glenn were to use one of the public women’s bathrooms. He also expressed personal concerns about his reactions to Glenn’s transition.
“I think it would have made it very uncomfortable and emotionally upsetting for me to communicate with [Glenn’s male name redacted] under those circumstances, and I imagined that some other number of our employees would feel likewise,” he said.
“It makes me think about things I don’t like to think about, particularly at work … I think it’s unsettling to think of someone dressed in women’s clothing with male sexual organs inside that clothing.”
Brumby couldn’t explain to Cole Thaler, the Lambda Legal attorney representing Glenn, why it was upsetting.
“It’s not something that I enjoy thinking about, and I think it would have been unsettling to have a constant reminder to think about something I don’t like to think about,” he said.
Brumby called her transition unnatural, but said he didn’t make moral judgments while acknowledging others would. He said that some in the legislature would view Glenn’s transition as “liberal or ultra-liberal” and could lose faith in the office’s required neutrality.
Shorter Brumby: In addition to generally being a transphobic bigot, I also can’t stop thinking about the genitalia of the women who work in my office, and see this as a reason why they should be fired instead of myself.
How can Brumby officially make these confessions only to have the case still be open? The answer is sadly quite simple: Georgia is among the majority of states that do not explicitly make discrimination on the basis of gender identity illegal. Instead, Glenn and her lawyers are filing suit under the federal law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. While it seems obvious to me that such a law is applicable to this situation — Glenn was fired for openly identifying with her true sex — legal opinions on the subject are mixed. And Brumby admits to knowing as much when he made his decision:
Brumby said he did his own legal research and asked another employee to do her own legal research. He checked to see if Gender Identity Disorder fell under the Americans with Disability Act, and if there was case law that would prohibit him from terminating Glenn because of her transition. He said he found that GID is not covered in the ADA and there is conflicting case law about firing people who transition on the job.
He also noted that one or more of his friends told him, “I would get sued and I would lose.”
In other words, he knew perfectly well that what he was doing was discriminatory — otherwise, there would be nothing to research. But he also saw that many others have gotten away with the exact same behavior and figured that his desire to discriminate was worth the gamble.
The experience of Vandy Beth Glenn and the atrocious actions of her ass of an ex-boss are a perfect example for why it’s so vital for Congress to pass an inclusive ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act). Indeed, Glenn and her lawyers are hoping to bring attention to precisely that bill with this case. Even if Glenn wins in the Federal District Court in Atlanta, that’s only one jurisdiction. Every other person who faces similar discrimination in a different district would have to go through the same process with their own district court, and hope that the same decision is reached. This is particularly troublesome because of the fact that there are countless stories like Glenn’s out there.
ENDA as currently written would outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender identity, as well as sexual orientation, gender and disability. With the last major attempt to pass ENDA, there was a debacle in which gender identity was dropped from the bill, and trans people were screwed over by GLB leaders, in an attempt to increase the chances of passage. Though sexual orientation is still the aspect of the bill getting the most media coverage, gender identity is in the bill this time around — and it needs to stay that way, and the bill needs to be passed.
Check out the Inclusive ENDA Facebook page, and please be sure to take a few minutes out of your day to contact the representatives and senators who need to be pushed for their vote. The decision to contact or not contact can make the difference between passage or non-passage, and between a fully inclusive bill and one that leaves trans people out in the cold.