Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Owen Smith's Testimony for the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Bill

My name is Owen Smith and I currently live in Baltimore, Maryland.

I want to share a staggering statistic for you - according to a recent study from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 1 in 5 transgender people are fired from their jobs because of their gender identity and presentation, not because of their ability to perform on the job. Of those that lost their jobs, 12 percent became homeless.

Those numbers are hard to grasp, until you realize that I fulfill both number. I am the one that was fired. I am the one that became homeless. How did I get there?

As a transgender person I was applying for jobs because I wanted to be an EMT. I was certified and excited about the possibility that I could help people daily. I went to interview after interview without ever getting a call back. I'd send in my resume, and they'd call me to schedule an interview, excited that they had someone of my caliber apply for the position, only to take one look at me and cringe. I didn't fit the person on paper. I was never hired.

As a result of not being able to find a job and be hired because of my gender identity, I was kicked out of my apartment for not being able to afford my monthly rent. Without a job, how was I supposed to be able to afford my rent? I was forced to live out of my car and sometimes I was able to sleep on my friend's couches.

I used to bathe myself out of a bar sink - a job that I eventually found where I was able to work only part-time. Not only was hygiene an issue for my but finding food also became a challenge because I was transgender. Because I lived way below the poverty line, I lived for the generic fast food value menu, finding whatever food I could afford to eat.

This is no way to live.

I finally found full-time employment at a local cafe in Baltimore, but I can't say that all my problems were solved. Discrimination because of my gender identity started right away. One of the owners refused to call me by my name, Owen. He only would refer to me in a horribly as a he/she. When I wasn't being insulted to my face by my boss, the owner would say derogatory statements within ear-shot of me and loud enough for the customers to hear that I wasn't "man enough" for certain tasks, like lifting over 200 pounds. Finally, I worked up enough courage to stand up for myself, he attacked me physically and I was violently pushed up against a refrigerator.

To me, and to many more transgender Marylanders, HB235 does truly mean life or death. Please pass HB235 and save the lives of transgender Marylanders - today.

Thank you.