The Transgender Pride Flag (Credit: Monica Helms, uploaded by Dlloyd via Wikimedia Commons).
A report released this month by the D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR) paints a bleak picture for the District’s transgender residents. It found that in almost half of all cases, employers will choose a less-qualified cisgender applicant over more qualified transgender applicants.
“We hope this will be used as a tool to explain to people that this discrimination is real,” says Elliot Imse, a spokesman for the OHR. “The numbers are so high that anyone who looks at them would have to walk away with a better understanding of the impact they have on trans people’s ability to seek employment.”
Even more disheartening, Imse notes, is that OHR deliberately tried to control for other factors that could sway employers’ responses. For instance, other studies have shown that people who are older, people of color, or people with African-American sounding names tend to be more likely to be discriminated against. As such, OHR made all of their transgender and cisgender applicants younger, with no gaps in their employment history and names that were perceived to be white.
These would-be applicants were among the most privileged in terms of race, class and educational level. That they still experienced anti-transgender discrimination, means that the likelihood of such discrimination in places without the District’s robust nondiscrimination laws would be much higher, Imse says.
“It’s terrible news, but not too surprising,” says Ilona Turner, the legal director of the Transgender Law Center. “Unfortunately, the results shown in the D.C. study are not that uncommon, and, in fact, track the results of the largest and most robust survey to date, which similarly found that around 50 percent of transgender people had been fired, not hired, or denied a promotion because they were transgender.”
Turner says that for transgender job seekers, one of the positive developments is that courts and administrative agencies — such as the Equality Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) — are beginning to recognize that anti-transgender discrimination constitutes sex discrimination, which is prohibited under Title VII.
“That means that in every state in the country, a transgender person who experiences discrimination or thinks they’ve experienced discrimination, can go into their local EEOC office and file a complaint,” says Turner. “The EEOC will investigate, mediate, and, if necessary, prosecute that case against the employer. This is also the interpretation of Title VII that the Department of Justice has adopted in a memo from the Attorney General directing the department to use this interpretation of Title VII in all of its legal work.”
Selisse Berry, founder and CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, believes part of the solution to solving discrimination includes bringing about a shift in workplace attitudes, which will change as more transgender people decide to come out at work. To help facilitate that, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates tries to provide guidelines that can help employers become more knowledgeable about the LGBT community and the issues that LGBT employees may face.
Many employers, particularly Fortune 500 companies, are much more aware of LGBT issues than they used to be when Berry began doing diversity training 20 years ago. But she also notes that people’s familiarity with the transgender community still lags behind their LGB counterparts.
“There’s still a lot of discrimination, and it’s based on fear more than anything,” says Berry. “It’s not really understanding transgender people. And for employers, it’s often, ‘What does this mean financially? Are they going to need special accommodations?’
“That’s a lot of the work we do, to educate employers,” she says. “We provide guidelines for people about transitioning on the job, and guidelines for employers to understand the step-by-step method to just demystify it. And recognize that this is the same person with the same skills and experience. And you can retain those skills and that experience just by following a few steps.”