WASHINGTON — Calling it a "surreal experience," Mia Macy left the White House Monday with a smile, having just met with President Obama moments before he signed an executive order to protect the LGBT employees of federal contractors and transgender federal employees from discrimination.
"I feel like there's a boulder, and we've all been taking part on pushing this boulder up the hill," she told BuzzFeed after the signing ceremony. Of the discrimination case Macy, a transgender woman, successfully brought against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), she said, "I just had one leg of the journey. I helped on that one, and a lot of other people have helped push it up there. And, it's not all the way — but we got it a little bit, and we gotta keep going."
Macy's claim led the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to rule in 2012 decision that anti-transgender discrimination is barred under Title VII's sex-discrimination prohibition.
"This saves lives," Macy said of the executive order. "For the transgender community, there's one person who's not only not going to lose their livelihood tomorrow and not going to lose their food tomorrow, but they might not lose their life tomorrow. That's the side I know about, and I know it's also in the GLB community also."
Macy was one of several attendees at Monday's executive order signing who had faced anti-LGBT workplace discrimination in their past.
"The reality is that someone might not kill themselves tonight because they have something tomorrow to hold on to," she said. "Someone gets to feed their kids tomorrow. Him signing that today, someone gets to pay their rent and mortgage, and that's life."
In signing the order, Obama told the nearly 300 people in attendance in the East Room of the White House, "[T]hanks to your passionate advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause, our government — government of the people, by the people, and for the people — will become just a little bit fairer."
Macy, who brought her discrimination claim in June 2011 after having been refused work at an ATF laboratory, was one of those advocates.
Her claim was accepted by the EEOC, a landmark decision from the agency, and eventually decided in her favor by the Department of Justice. And, while she was initially represented by the Transgender Law Center, the group and Macy eventually parted ways — and she was represented by a private attorney in the post-EEOC part of her case. With no group backing her effort directly, Macy — despite the key role her case played in moving LGBT workplace protections in recent years — has remained on the sidelines throughout many of the big moments.
On Monday, though, Macy walked in to the East Room of the White House after all the other guests were seated. What's more, she walked in with some of the key advocates involved in pressing Obama to sign the order in recent years, including Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, Center for American Progress Vice President Winnie Stachelberg, Williams Institute Executive Director Brad Sears, and University of Pennsylvania Law School professor Tobias Wolff.
Along with those who walked in with her and the people who accompanied Obama on stage, Macy was also one of a handful of people invited to meet with Obama prior to the signing.
"Knowing from his staff, I had heard that he'd known about the case and was up to speed on it," she said. "He came by, and I said, 'I'm Mia Macy,' and he was like, 'And, thank you.' To be recognized and then to have them bring me in and let me sit right there in the front row, it felt really nice. It's a nice bookend to a very long four years."
And though Obama has often faced criticism for rhetoric not matched with action, Macy — on a day when the two met — said that the words, also, mattered.
"To have the president say 'trans' ... that right there gives you goosebumps, to know you exist, you're not a second-class citizen. That is the magical moment," she said, noting the importance, for her, of Obama talking about not only trans people, but gay, lesbian, and bisexual people as well. And, the presence, not just of Macy, but of several trans advocates and activists who have faced and fought discrimination, that mattered, too.
"To have us in that room," she said. "And having someone in that front row was pretty freaking cool, too — to be that gal."