As a Black American I am marginalized, my experiences have been tainted by racism. However, when I began my gender transition, those experiences shifted.
Caitlyn Jenner is known as the most famous openly transgender woman in the world. However, to what extent does Jenner’s visibility help the transgender community? It can be said that she has helped shine a spotlight on a community that is often left out of our own narratives. But unlike Jenner, most of us trans folks do not have the same agency as her, because Jenner benefits from white, upper class privilege, and in that sense, Jenner’s visibility is unparalleled to the poverty that ravages my community and the discrimination that we face in the workforce.
As a Black American I am marginalized, my experiences have been tainted by racism. However, when I began my gender transition, those experiences shifted. I recognized it as I was preparing for my first job interview, being openly femme and trans, I found myself worrying about how passable and how polite I would appear to the employer before I even thought about the interview questions.
I should note that I am a transgender woman who has the benefit of being cis passing, meaning that I have more access to safe spaces than someone who is visibly trans, and it would be a lie if I said that I do not rely heavily on my privilege as much as I can.
But when I didn’t get the job, I played several scenarios in my head: was I too trans? Too black? Seen as not competent enough as a woman? These are all examples of double consciousness, which is a term to describe the internal conflict experienced by subordinated groups in an oppressive society. Conversely, these are forms of nuances that many cis people do not have to face.
According to a survey by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals experience double the rate of unemployment compared to cisgender individuals. Trans and gender non-conforming people of color experience quadruple the unemployment rate compared to cis folks.
Adding to the overwhelming number of odds that work against us in the workplace, we often must consider how safe it is for us to disclose, yet considering 90% of us experience harassment, mistreatment and discrimination at work, we are more likely to hide our identity instead. Currently, only 20 states have laws banning workplace discrimination based on gender identity and just this past Wednesday, Donald Trump announced that he was banning transgender Americans from serving in the military.
A lack of workplace and employment protections put LGBT Americans at a serious disadvantage. According to a study by the Williams Institute, LGBT Americans are more likely to live in poverty. And if our own president chooses to discriminate against us, how does that influence the many states like my own here in North Carolina, where we do not have access to protections that keep employers from discriminating against us?
We can’t leave it up to the government, especially one that is based on malfeasance and headed towards a kleptocracy. Instead, ask yourselves, your families and your friends, what steps you can take to help end workplace discrimination.
You can start by helping provide funds to low-income transgender and gender non-conforming Americans. Work with your state and local government agencies and non-profit organizations by letting them know you would like to help transgender Americans by providing resources in any way that you can.
Give Transgender Americans a space to speak about company and school environments. You can use your voice to help center transgender inclusion by joining LGBT organizations in your area and being involved in outlawing discrimination in employment, housing, and education based on gender identity and expression. You can even propose a bill to your local, state and federal representatives, and then get involved in helping it become a law.
And if you are an employer who happens to be reading this, you can do your part by creating an equal and safe space for us, with the understanding that we are as skilled as any other employee.