In 2019, it's impossible to pretend that transgender people — their needs, survival, and opportunity to thrive — don't matter. Initiatives like Trump's recent memo, which announced plans to limit trans identity and roll back strides in trans healthcare, housing, and other social support services, try to suggest otherwise. The President's administration has also worked to enforce discriminatory anti-trans policies nationwide, in schools, at work, and in the military.
If Out & Equal Workplace Advocates reports that up to one in four LGBTQ people have experienced workplace discrimination as of 2017, imagine how much higher that figure might be for trans employees. More than 27 percent of trans people who held or applied for a job in the last year reported being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion due to their gender identity. This doesn't account for under-earning and extreme poverty: a stat from the 2013 report A Broken Bargain for Transgender Workersnotes that trans workers are four times more likely than the general population to have a household income of under $10,000. And due to fear of hostile work environments, more than 75 percent of trans employees find it necessary to take steps to avoid mistreatment at work. As it stands now, there is no federal law in place barring employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
So it goes without saying that our duty to care for and uplift trans people rests on our workforce, too, as the trans unemployment rate is reportedly three times higher than the regular national average (3.8 percent). However, Trans Can Work, a California-based nonprofit network of educators focused on advancing workplace inclusion, reports a brighter outlook. In America, an estimated 1.4 million adults currently identify as transgender. Of that, the organization notes that up to 27 percent of California youth identity as trans or gender nonconforming. And more change is coming: by 2025, millennials will reportedly comprise 75 percent of the workforce — a group that's twice more likely to identify along the LGBTQ spectrum and "more likely to identify as non-binary or genderfluid than previous generations."
This all means that employers, and by extension, the government, will have to adjust to the certainty of trans employees. And this context is important in understanding what led Jason Hill, a Los Angeles-based social worker and trans rights advocate, to create what will become the world's largest job fair aimed at finding stable and long-term employment for trans people. While LGBTQ community centers around the country, especially in major cities like LA, New York, and Chicago, are known for providing inclusive programming, from job fairs to educational resources for employers, Hill's efforts appear to be among the first to deliberately center trans people's right to work safely and securely. Over a span of "around three to four months," Hill says they created the Transcend event, working alongside their employer, LA's St. John's Well Child and Family Center and Trans Can Work. St. John's Well Child and Family Center, it is worth noting, is home to the nation's largest specialty clinic that focuses on transgender health services.
Hill's approach to building Transcend was decidedly grassroots. Through their efforts, they assembled a wide breadth of 81 participating employers, "plus a waiting list" — from Paramount to UCLA to Starbucks. The event will be held at the Los Angeles Trade Center on March 13 from 1 to 4 PM.
"I was blown away by the response I got from participants," they told PAPER. "I honestly expected weird looks or rude questions, and none of that happened. Sometimes, I would go into crowded retail stores and go up to the cash register and explain what we were doing. The sales associates would connect me with corporate, and here we are."
Hill said one impetus for starting Transcend was seeing how impermanent employment often is for trans workers. "If you think of any seasonal job during any major holiday, nowadays, those are the easiest jobs to get, and you're not even likely to see trans people ringing you up at the register," they said. "We can definitely do better than that. We deserve and are worth far more than what a season of menial labor can afford us. And the phenomenon of not even getting seasonal work shows how dire it is for trans people to find regular employment, and for that to become normalized."
"The phenomenon of not even getting seasonal work shows how dire it is for trans people to find regular employment, and for that to become normalized."
An uncomfortable factor of anti-trans discrimination for many to acknowledge is based on appearance, also known as the complex politics of passing. Hill created Transcend to promote a greater culture of acceptance for trans employees at all stages of transition. Hill admits that, although they benefited early in their own transition from the privilege of passing as a "well-spoken Black male," they are aware this isn't what many trans people experience when seeking employment.
"It hasn't been as hard for me as it's been for so many of my trans folx," they said. "I've seen people who are more visibly nonconforming or visibly trans femme navigate some rough shit just to survive. It's fucked up to see that at play when you just want to eat and keep a roof over your head. So the purpose of this is also to create an environment where trans people don't have to be wondering if their voice is too deep, too high... If they have facial hair, if they don't have facial hair, whether or not they've completed facial feminization surgery, what clothes to wear to the interview. They should know when they show up to this event that the employers present want to diversity their workplaces and actually want to have trans people there. They don't care where you're at in your transition, and that is so important for us."
See the official Transcend flyer, below, and if you are in the LA area and are interested in attending, RSVP here.
Photo courtesy of Jason Hill