Can you introduce yourself? My name is Sparrow. I identify as genderqueer and am from Brooklyn, NY.
What do you think are some of the major issues surrounding employment that impact trans people? I used to work at a homeless shelter for queer and trans youth in Brooklyn. A lot of the residents had difficulty finding employment either because their presentation did not match their identification or because the were transitioning and they were very visibly trans. Trans women in particular have a lot of difficulty with bullshit.
Do you feel like community-based initiatives targeting trans people to help them get employment have been useful? What kind of strategies do you think have been successful, if any? That’s really complicated. What has been useful have unfortunately been lawsuits, like Win Dixie getting sued. In 1996, a woman who had been presenting as a man for a large portion of her employment history with Win Dixie started presenting as a woman, and was fired explicitly for being trans. She sued Win Dixie and won. They were forced to give her back wages and put a gender nondiscrimination clause in their policy. Those sorts of things are great but there needs to be a clear understanding that people are going to change because they are nice. They are going to change because they are forced to. Do you think passing a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act is going to be useful or more of the same? It’s a useful thing to start from and to fall back on because job security is an issue that impacts us a great deal. Short of obliterating capitalism, we have to exist in the world as it is today.
Do you have any personal stories you’d like to share related to employment as a trans people? I’ve actually chose to do sex work to support myself because I have a lot of control over the hours I work, the environment I work in and I don’t need to be concerned about what my employer thinks about my presentation.
How do you feel about that decision? I feel pretty good about it. It’s the only job I’ve ever had where I feel respected, where I am adequately compensated for my time. It’s a job that I chose consciously and feel good about having. Do you have anything to say to allies or people who want to help gender non-conforming people? There’s a lot to be said for creating space. When you see stuff goes down that’s busted, you need to say something because it’s really lonely to be the only one.
Trans (un)employment is a documentary that seeks to explore how employment issues impact the gender variant and transgender community. I am motivated to create this partially by the recent discussion of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), partially by my own experiences with unemployment, and partially by the underwhelming amount of information available about the topic.
This investigation will include the perspectives of activists, community members, social services workers, legislators, and many others. I am currently interested in talking with people who self-identify within the trans and gender variant community about what themes and topics they feel are most relevant to address. If you are interested in the project and/or are willing to share your thoughts and experiences with me, let me know by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay tuned for related articles and snippets from this project.
A Few Notes for further information: Win Dixie was let off the hook in Oliver V Win Dixie, a similar case about a person who was fired for engaging in crossdressing outside of work. For more legal precidents, read this.