Transforming the Workforce
By Samantha Gardner
The National LGBT Task Force’s Creating Change conference drew me to frozen Chicago in January with one goal: gathering information for economic empowerment. I already had many projects on my plate, but the one that I really hoped to network/knowledge-share about was the TRANS*FORM Employment Expo. The ANCHOR Project is collaborating with the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance, Expert Global Solutions, and Pima Community College, to the bring the Expo to the PCC downtown campus on April 14, 2016.
2014 was a landslide year for the Transgender/Gender Non-Conforming (GNC) community in America and was dubbed the ‘Transgender Tipping Point.’ Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono, Caitlyn Jenner, and Carmen Carrera are just a few of the high profile transgender/GNC people that have dominated mainstream conversations. Even on the international stage, transgender public figures have fought for visibility with success. Professional racer Hiromasa Ando and politician Tamara Adrian made waves in their home countries of Japan and Venezuela due to their out status. This might lead the average American to assume that in 2016, transgender/GNC people are jet setting people of means with great cheekbones. However, the reality is grim for most folks under the transgender umbrella in America and throughout the world.
One might ask themselves why should there be a job fair focused on transgender/GNC people. One answer would be that job fairs are common and have focused on many populations from youth to women to plumbers to veterans – so why not transgender/GNC people? Another answer would be that transgender/GNC people experience terrible barriers in the job market and in the workforce. For example, the aforementioned Tamara Adrian ran for the Venezuelan National Assembly and was forced to do so under her old name. Name and pronoun issues are only one set of problems out of many that transgender/GNC people face in the job market.
When I attended ‘Addressing LGBTQ Poverty: A Caucus Economic Justice Advocates’ at Creating Change, we were given factsheets with some astounding statistics. In particular, the employment stats for the transgender/GNC population were dismal.
- More than a quarter of transgender people reported being fired due to their gender identity.
- Unemployed transgender people face double the rate of working in street economies, homelessness, and incarceration.
- 11% of transpeople have been evicted from their homes because of their identity, with that number doubling for black transpeople, transfolks without a high school degree, or transgender undocumented immigrants.
- 55% of homeless transgender people were harassed by both guests and staff in homeless shelters.
- Queer and transpeople of color are disproportionately more likely to interact with law enforcement with a quarter of transgender Latinas and half of Black transgender people experiencing incarceration. This follows a trend set in schools wherein QTPOC students are more likely to be disciplined (31% of AA LGBTQ students are suspended compared to 18% of suspensions for white students).
All of these stats paint a picture of a community that is triaging problems due to layers of discrimination which takes away from productivity and empowerment. Transgender and gender non-conforming people are taking steps for themselves and working with allies to create new opportunities such as Carter Brown of Black Transmen Inc.
At Creating Change, there were professionals from organizations that are trying to bridge the employment gap for transgender/GNC Americans. I was especially eager to listen to representatives from Chicago House describe their work to the LGBTQ Poverty Caucus. Yet there are fewer programs than necessary to assist and empower transgender/GNC people.
TRANS*FORM Employment Expo is the first step in a grand economic initiative by the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance. SAGA wants to create a better environment for Transgender/GNC jobseekers in Tucson and I am proud to ally with them on this project. Creating Change didn’t give me any magical solutions to creating a Trans/GNC-focused job fair, but it did teach me how deep the need for economic empowerment is in the community.