Transgender Job Seekers Face Uphill Battle

Rebecca Juro transgender discriminationBy Blake Ellis

Rebecca Juro, 50, has been unemployed for the last four years and she can't help but think it's because she's transgender.

She has applied for almost 100 jobs and has gone on close to 20 interviews, but there have been no offers. No one says they aren't hiring her because she's transgender. But some employers tell her the job has been filled even though she continues to see postings for it online. Others have "laughed in my face."

"With as many non-trans people out of work as there are, it seems almost no one is going to hire a trans woman when there's another choice," said Juro, who lives at home with her mom as she job hunts.

Transgender is a term used for people who identify as a different gender from the one they were given at birth. Some undergo surgery or take hormones to change their bodies.

And as millions of Americans struggle with unemployment, this community is being hit especially hard.

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It's hard to pin down a precise jobless rate since there's so little transgender-specific data available. The most recent comprehensive study of more than 6,000 transgender individuals was released in 2011 by the National Center for Transgender Equality. This report found the transgender jobless rate to be 14% -- double the national rate -- and as high as 28% for black respondents. And a recent online Prudential survey of 49 transgender individuals had similar findings.

Keisha Allen, a black, 45-year-old transgender woman, has been working as a prostitute since her mother kicked her out of the house at age 16 for being transgender. She makes less than $12,000 a year and lives at a homeless shelter, where she is forced to stay in the men's section. She has applied for hundreds of entry-level jobs that don't require a college degree -- from dishwashers to cashiers -- without making it past the first interview.

"Once I get to the interview and my name doesn't match my ID and my body doesn't match what it says on my ID, I never hear back," said Allen. "My only way of survival is through sex."
Even those who find jobs often end up taking significant pay cuts, said Lisa Mottet, director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Transgender Civil Rights Project.

Jennifer Chavez, 55, has 40 years of experience in the auto industry but said she was terminated from her job as a mechanic just two months after telling her boss she planned to transition from male to female. Upon finding out about her transition, she said co-workers stopped talking to her and her boss even told her an applicant had turned down a job because of her. Soon, word about her transition spread.

"[P]rior to my transition, getting a job was nothing," said Chavez. "After my transition, a huge segment of Atlanta in the auto service world knew about me, so I was blackballed from all the auto dealerships."

More than 300 applications later, she landed a full-time, commission-based technician job at Pep Boys, where her potential annual earnings are around $35,000 -- half of what she previously made. As a result, she has barely been able to hold on to her home.

Many transgender individuals aren't able to afford a home at all. Homelessness among this group is estimated to be double the national rate, according to the NCTE study. Respondents were also nearly four times more likely to have annual household incomes of less than $10,000, and 16% said they resorted to sex work or drug dealing for income -- a percentage that nearly doubled for the unemployed and skyrocketed to 53% for black respondents.

Medical bills can also be a problem. Tim Chevalier, a 32-year-old transsexual man from California, has a high-paying job as a software engineer at Mozilla. But he's still struggling to make ends meet after racking up $50,000 in medical bills from his reconstructive surgery and related medical costs that insurance wouldn't cover.

More: Transgender Teacher, Mark Krolikowski, Sues After Being Branded 'Worse Than Gay'

Help for the unemployed
A growing number of programs are being launched to help the transgender community.
The LGBT Community Center in San Francisco assists transgender job seekers with decisions like which name to include on a resume -- the one from their previous sex or their new name -- whether to bring up their transition to a potential employer or to come out to past employers in case they are called as a reference.

It also started offering a computer coding class late last year -- a skill in high demand. The first class of 15 people is in its second semester, and the center will try to connect them with companies in the area like Twitter and Google upon graduation.

The Chicago House, a facility for people with HIV/AIDS in Chicago, is launching transgender-specific housing and a four-week employment program offering job search advice, career counseling and even help with makeup and clothing before job interviews.

Programs like this are especially important in the aftermath of the economic downturn, since transgender people were often the first to be laid off and last to be hired, said Mottet.

But a federal law protecting transgender workers remains crucial to getting to the root of the unemployment problem, advocacy groups say. And there's growing optimism it could happen, with state anti-discrimination laws that specifically protect transgender employees now covering 45% of the population -- up from 5% about 10 years ago.

Even so, it's often hard to prove a discrimination case.

In one of the biggest recent victories, Vandy Beth Glenn sued the Georgia General Assembly for firing her immediately after she told her boss that she planned to transition from male to female. A federal appeals court based in Atlanta ruled that treating her differently due to her gender identity violated the Constitution's Equal Protection clause. Glenn was given back her job editing proposed state legislation, and the court even went on to rule that public and private employers can't fire transgender workers because of their gender identity, said Greg Nevins, an attorney at Lambda Legal who represented Glenn.

"Once [employers] are aware of what is prohibited, I think it will get rid of a lot of the barriers to transgender individuals having the right to earn a living and be part of the workforce," said Nevins.

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Who'd wanna hire THAT thing? it's a FREAK LOL
You born a man you stay a man, you born a woman, you stay a woman.

April 19 2013 at 9:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to johnlincolnhawk's comment
Lisa Lore

John, thanks for demonstrating why transgender people have such difficulties, from such ignorant and hateful reactions.

April 21 2013 at 11:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would think that there are 2 sides to hiring transgenders.

On the positive side they can be see as living examples of "multi taskers."
On the negative side they can be seen as someone who has a difficult time making a decision.

What to do, what to do.

March 01 2013 at 1:21 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to c.mertz's comment
Lisa Lore

How do you figure they can be seen as someone who has a difficult time making a decision?

April 21 2013 at 11:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Gays are at it again. Unbelievable. Unemployment is a universal problem, so shut up.

February 27 2013 at 10:12 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to iamthetruther8's comment
Lisa Lore

Apparently you don't know the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. And the whole point of this article is that it's NOT a universal problem, it's a lot MORE of a problem for transgender people. (It can be for gay people who are out too, although not as often) I won't tell you to shut up. I just wish you'd think before you speak.

April 21 2013 at 11:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How did HE get the money to chop off his weiner, buy oversized women's clothing and shoes and get his hair colored if HE is unemployed?

February 27 2013 at 2:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Dick's comment

Welll if she is capable of doing the job ............I really don't see a problem !! To many employers today don't want to give other people a chance !! It don't really matter what you look like as long as you can do the job !! Sometimes there is a prize in the unexpected !

February 26 2013 at 8:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think weight loss would help a lot here and make-up and hair and style makeover.

February 26 2013 at 6:05 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ikswezdyr's comment

No kidding! If you were ugly as a guy, you're going to be a REALLY ugly woman. I wouldn't want you representing my company--I'm selling beauty!

April 19 2013 at 7:55 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Boo Hoo. No Mrs. Victim, it isnt just gays and such having problems. My own middle aged wife, who is highly educated and experienced and very much a woman, is at nearly 4 years, and hundreds of applications and few interviews, still with no job after hers was cut 4 years ago, and only my small business thankfully is keeping us afloat, but it is hard as I am older than her and not as healthy as I was 30 years ago doing construction type work...

I know so many people in business and privately (different States too) who are in same boat and it is not getting better here in NC for them either. Fed numbers out today say things better and housing prices rose 16%, so I ask where in the hell are they seeing that occur? it is not in our region.

February 26 2013 at 4:32 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

There is more to this than your questionable gender. Your bad credit which you got because your out of work,your age especially over 60 and no degree. Try proving a company is discriminating. Then you have to have letters from psychologist to have surgery before most states and laws will let you change your gender marks which cost a lot of money. A very vicious cycle that most including gays or lesbians do not have to endure.

February 26 2013 at 2:22 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Thamra's comment

Questionable? Well, at least I read something close to reality. Some people think that is normal, that is the real tragedy!

February 26 2013 at 6:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
The Blackman

They could technically sue for gender discrimination.

February 26 2013 at 1:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

all decisions have consequences. sucks to be you

February 26 2013 at 11:59 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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