In the past two years, both Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, transgender women, have been featured in prominent magazine covers. “Orange Is the New Black” and “Transparent” brought significant trans characters to TV. Media coverage is changing too, from the New York Times series “Transgender Today” to Time’s 2014 article “The Transgender Tipping Point.”
For the trans community at large, it doesn’t always feel like popular culture — or nondiscrimination laws — are truly transforming the experience. Most people don’t get a magazine cover, a hashtag and a documentary series when they come out.
There are still enormous obstacles to face: transgender people are about twice as likely to be unemployed and have less access to healthcare and housing. Transgender people still face high rates of violence and suicide. There have been some changes that protect trans people at work from discrimination. Fortune 100 and 500 companies are widely adopting policies that prevent against discrimination based on gender identity, but smaller employers are still catching up, often leaving someone in the midst of a transition out of a job.
Drian Juarez is the program manager of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Transgender Economic Empowerment Project. Part of her work involves helping trans people navigate the logistics of transitioning at work — finding trans-friendly employers, assisting with name changes, job interview coaching, resume tweaks and help with legal representation. Some of it involves working with employers to develop safe, more diverse work spaces.
Juarez says the landscape for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights was different when she transitioned about 20 years ago in her early 20s.
“Up until the point that I transitioned, I hadn’t heard of transgender,” Juarez says. “For me, the world felt very isolated. I didn’t know I had a community. I felt very disempowered. I had no idea what my future was going to look like.”
Juarez says many of the people she works with have lost everything during their transitions.
“They’ve lost their families, they’ve lost their jobs,” she says. “Unfortunately their transition stories are not like what we see in the magazines.”
That’s why organizations like the Transgender Economic Empowerment Project work with employers to educate them on transgender rights and inclusiveness. Inclusive measures could range from a gender-neutral bathroom or private changing space, to a line in a job listing that makes reference to a company’s gender identity nondiscrimination policy. Many businesses train managers and human resource representatives to sensitively handle trans issues to make things easier on an employee who is coming out at work.
Fostering work spaces that are safe and inclusive for people of all gender identities is not just crucial for transgender people, Juarez says, it’s part of a company’s future economic health.
“Especially when you look at the Fortune 500 and 100 companies, those employers are really investing in diversity,” Juarez says. “Diversity is only growing, and employers who see the value of that are starting to make those changes.”
When working with companies that are slower to adapt, Juarez gives them her business perspective.
“For employers who want to stay viable in the future, the community is changing, acceptance is growing, and those companies that are embracing diversity, and trans people are seeing greater success,” Juarez says. “People want to support those kinds of employers, those kinds of businesses. It’s a smart business choice to be inclusive.”
Juarez says things are getting better for trans people at work with more nondiscrimination policies and more safe spaces. There’s a long way to go, but Juarez says, “it’s an amazing time to be trans.”
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