Recently, I was a panelist on HuffPost Live to talk about my experience with workplace discrimination due to being trans. My story was turned into a feature on the Gay Voices vertical, and while it's completely accurate, some of what I said may have left an inaccurate impression of certain relevant facts. When you've only got a minute or two to tell your story, sometimes you have to skip important facts to save time. Any inaccurate perceptions are based on the way I told the story, and so I own them. In the interest of accuracy, I want to clarify the record and tell the rest of the story.
The first thing I said that may have been perceived inaccurately was that I was fired immediately after I told my boss that I'd be transitioning from male to female. This is true, and my dismissal was clearly due to my being trans, but it didn't happen quite as immediately as my on-air comments might make it seem.
It was actually a few days after I told my boss I'd be transitioning that I was officially fired, though I did know immediately after telling my boss that it was only a matter of time, based on his reaction. I'd been a good and well-liked employee up to that point, but once my impending transition was known, my boss' demeanor toward me changed drastically. He became openly hostile and said almost exactly what I said on-air, but it was actually a few days after I'd told him. However, there was no doubt whatsoever as to why I was being summarily fired after several months on the job with no disciplinary issues or problems with the quality of my work.
The other issue I want to clear up is the timing of my interaction with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. I contacted them immediately after being fired, and a hearing was scheduled for a couple of months thereafter.
By the time of the hearing, I'd fully begun my transition and was in an "in-between" mode, presenting in an androgynous manner, my hair somewhat femininely styled, and my body was already beginning to develop womanly curves from the estrogen I'd been taking for a while by then. The company sent the manager I'd worked for and a company lawyer to the meeting, and both they and I told our sides of the story. My former manager claimed that he had no idea what transition was and that he'd fired me for misbehavior. Of course, I knew this was a lie and asked for them to produce the disciplinary notices. They had none to show, because they didn't exist.
I told the hearing officer that it was clear that I had been terminated because this manager, and perhaps the company as well, had a problem with me transitioning from male to female. Of course, I had no way to produce evidence proving my own version of events, only my own description of how it went down. After hearing both sides, the hearing officer told us that he'd be filing a report and we'd all be notified when a decision was made.
It was almost exactly a year later that I received notice from the Division on Civil Rights that my case had been closed and that no action would be taken because it had been determined that it wasn't in the state's interest to protect me from discrimination.
Now, it's important to remember that this was 1997. There were still relatively few laws protecting even gays and lesbians from discrimination, no protections for trans people in New Jersey, and gay marriage was still unheard of worldwide. The major civil rights organizations that did exist at that time focused solely on the rights of gays and lesbians, if they paid any attention to the issues of the LGBT community at all. Trans people had few organizations that advocated for our rights, and with just one exception, the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition, they were all at the state or local levels. No one was speaking up for trans people then but we ourselves, and no one else was particularly interested in doing so.
After I lost that job, I wasn't able to find work again for six years. With no laws anywhere locally that protected my right to work, there was no interest in hiring a trans woman, particularly one who was visibly trans. It was only when New York City passed a law protecting trans people from discrimination in 2002 and New Jersey passed one in 2006 that things began to improve noticeably.
Once the economy began declining, my ability to get hired vanished once again. I'd been able to get work for a few years while the economy was reasonably good, but no one wanted to hire a trans woman once the number of applicants for available jobs shot up to astronomical levels, with so many people out of work. It hasn't gotten any better here since.
End result: I haven't been gainfully employed since Barack Obama took office.
I don't blame Obama for my inability to get hired (he certainly didn't create the situation), but I certainly do blame him for a distinct lack of effort and credibility in keeping his 2007 campaign promise to work to see the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed into law.
I also blame Congress and the major gay and lesbian civil rights organizations like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force for backburnering workplace rights to focus nearly exclusively on marriage, the issue of the wealthiest and best connected in the major-donor class of gays and lesbians.
The issue of same-sex marriage has now reached a point where it's gone about as far as it can at the federal level, at least for the moment, and we're seeing a sudden wave of interest in Washington in protecting LGBT workplace rights. Of course, the problem is that the major damage has already been done. Our best chance in the last generation to see ENDA become law was squandered by federal Democrats from Obama on down, and by the major LGBT organizations, during the 111th Congress, so now all we're left with is the political theater of a possible Senate vote with virtually no chance that the bill will get through the House this session and reach Obama's desk.
Now all that people like me who are visibly queer can do is continue to wait and hope that maybe next time we get that once-in-a-generation chance to see our rights protected under federal law, there won't be yet another issue that the D.C. Democratic Party elites use as an excuse to throw us and our families under the bus yet again in favor of pandering to the wealthiest and best-connected in Washington. I have a feeling it's going to be a pretty long wait.
Yeah, it really is that bad out there, and it doesn't seem likely to get any easier anytime soon.