24 February 2013

Keeping Honest People Honest

"Locks keep honest people out."

I forget who said that.  That person certainly had the right idea.  Also, I think he or she could have substituted the word "Laws" for "locks" and "honest" for "out".

That's what I find myself thinking every time I hear about a trans person who loses a job or, worse, applies for a job only to be told that it's already filled, yet the employer keeps the job listing posted.  Or, we experience something nearly every educated African-American or white person from a working-class background has encountered:  would-be employers who say we wouldn't "fit in with the culture" of the organizations in which we're applying for jobs.  The academic world loves to use that excuse.

Those sorts of things happen in places where there are gender identity and expression are covered in human rights laws.  In places where no such protection exists, interviewers laugh in the faces of trans people.

I was reminded of what I've just described by Diana, who has experienced her own troubles in getting a job.  She also posted a link to an insightful (at least to the readers of CNN Money) article by Blake Ellis.  It describes what we already know:  that we're far more likely than anyone else to be unemployed, homeless, engaging in sex work or to live in homeless shelters or with relatives (if they haven't disowned us).  But it at least gives some specific stories that illustrate--and, more important, humanize the phenomena described.

All of them are heartbreaking or infuriating, depending on who you are and your temperament. Jennifer Chavez has 40 years of experience in the auto industry, yet she has been blackballed by all of the auto dealerships in the Atlanta area, where she lives, as word about her transition got around.  Her former co-workers stopped talking to her and her former employer told her that a would-be employee turned down a position because of her.  Finally, after 300 applications, she got a commission-based job as a technician with Pep Boys, where she has the potential to make, at best, half of what she made on her old job. She's just barely holding on to her home.

What's really terrible is that her story is far from the worst case, even of the ones described in that article.  And, in addition to employment, medical expenses are a problem because almost no employer-provided health insurance covers the costs of transitioning (therapy, hormones and such), let alone surgery.

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