Rev. Manish Mishra speaks about the Gender Inclusive Enda at the HRC Clergy Call 2009

Rev. Manish Mishra has traveled extensively throughout the world, living in India, Oman, Finland, and for brief periods in Switzerland. This international exposure gave him the opportunity to live in countries where Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity have helped define the cultures. He brings this multi-religious appreciation to his ministry, and draws on a variety of faith traditions and narratives in his preaching and worship.

I stand before you as a Unitarian Universalist minister in the Tampa Bay region of Florida who has witnessed firsthand, and been deeply troubled by, a question that cuts to the very core of who we are as Americans, and that question is this: do we have the right to fire people from the workplace for factors other than merit? Can we fire people just because we feel like it?

The answer should seem obvious — we are a country that values hard work, and believes in rewarding hard work. People who are doing a good job should be able to keep their job. And, yet, this commonly held understanding is not our reality. We need look no further than to former Largo, Florida City Manager Susan Stanton for proof of this fact.

In February of 2007, Stanton was identified by The Saint Petersburg Times as being in the midst of a gender reassignment process. Stanton had served Largo faithfully and well for over 14 years, with strong job evaluations, and in fact earning a pay increase in the preceding year. Upon this story breaking, Largo City Commissioners called for an emergency hearing, and subsequently voted to fire Stanton, explaining that ‘the public had lost confidence’ in her.

What had we, the public, lost confidence in…? Was it Stanton…? Or was it our own ability to work side-by-side with individuals who are vastly different from us? Was it our commitment to judge people on the merit and quality of their work, and not the basis of identity? Yes, Largo faced a crisis of confidence, not in Stanton, but in the American dream.

I am not transgender, and I don’t consider myself to be an activist on transgender issues: I am an activist when it comes to human dignity. We are all activists when it comes to human dignity because we all know how we would want to be treated ourselves — with compassion and respect, with openness and understanding, with the ability to work hard and be rewarded for it.

Employment discrimination is alive and well, but we mustn’t tolerate it, we musn’t be complicit with it. Rather, we must live boldly, giving witness to our most deeply held values. Now is such a time. I call on our Congress to take action in supporting the dignity of every working American.

HRC Clergy Call 2009

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