In all but 21 states and the District of Columbia, it’s legal to fire someone for being transgender. Trans people also report more difficulty accessing healthcare, and the Trump administration’s Justice Department announced it would not protect trans victims from workplace discrimination.
Vanessa Sheridan, director of gender equity and inclusion at the Center on Halsted, and LaSaia Wade stopped by the Morning Shift to discuss the barriers to employment for trans people, and some potential solutions. Wade is the executive director of the Brave Space Alliance in Englewood, which provides health counseling and job readiness to LGBTQ people.
GUESTS: LaSaia Wade, executive director of Brave Space Alliance
Vanessa Sheridan, director of gender equity and inclusion at the Center on Halsted
On trans access to healthcare in Chicago
LaSaia Wade: It’s very hard, especially in other cities and other states. Here in Chicago, I’m lucky and proud enough to say we have organizations like Howard Brown (Health Center), and The Village on the South Side, actually mobilizing around LGBT health, to see what can they actually do, or how can they pro-bono help trans and gender-nonconforming people through the system so they have what they need. So they’ve been doing that for years, and luckily enough Chicago is actually on that roll for that.
On the risks of coming out
Wade: When we step outside, we already have a list of what we have to do [to] survive. Are we gonna get home? What do we have to do? Did we shave good enough? Did we go to the ladies’ room good enough? Did we make sure our hair is in a particular type of way? We evaluate ourselves before even the country evaluates us… if you want to go stealth [and not come out as trans], 90 percent of the time you are able to live a little bit better than what you was if you was not stealth. For myself, I can speak on when I was working for Bell South a couple of years ago, working as the director of communications, switching BellSouth over to AT&T, I had a particular person that walked up to me during lunchtime and outed me… and then the next thing I knew, I went to work, like every day, and all my stuff was packed up at my desk, and then there was a White woman sitting at my desk who said, “You need to go see the HR, and the boss… you’re not here no more.”
On changing workplace culture
Vanessa Sheridan: [As a consultant], the first thing I like to say is, “Hello, I’m the trans person you’ve been warned about, and I don’t think I’m that threatening, frankly, so you can relax.” I tell them I have two goals — one is to give you factual, truthful information as best I can, and the second is to keep you off your cell phones for the next hour. And usually it works. But seriously, it’s important to give people the facts, and if you’re working with a corporation, it’s important to create the business case, and to state that very clearly, so people understand why the organization is doing this. And if you can show specific financial reasons as to why an organization should be trans-inclusive, they’re much more inclined to get on board. It helps in recruitment and retention efforts, and that’s a significant piece of revenue for organizations. Historically, social change has often happened first in the workplace. People take those changes and those new ideas home with them, and they introduce them into their relationships, and into their marriages, into their families and into their friendships, and the ripple effect occurs as a result. So offering these kinds of things in a workplace setting is really important because it begins to set a tone that carries through into the larger culture.
On being a better ally to trans people
Sheridan: To me, it always gets back to respect. You know, if you try to be a respectful individual, that will take you a long, long way, even if you don’t know anything about transgender people. If you try to be respectful… and ask some questions in an honest way with true integrity, people will respond positively to that, that’s been my experience. So an awfully good thing to do is to say, “I want to be respectful, may I ask which name and pronouns you would like me to use when I’m addressing you?” That would be one thing. Another thing would be, “How can I be an ally to you? What would you like me to do?” And then the trans person has the option to tell exactly what they’d like to do… If you do make a mistake, which we all do, just simply apologize and say, “I’m sorry, I’ll try to do better.” And then try to do better.
LEARN MORE: ‘Transgender’ Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration (New York Times 10/21/18)
Jeff Sessions: Transgender people not protected from workplace discrimination (USA Today 10/5/17)