Career vs. Identity - A Transgender Community Conundrum
Updated: Apr 16, 2019
The story of how Melanie Brand came into my life is a difficult one. Melanie dated my cousin Zoe during one of the hardest, most painful times of her life.
When I knew Zoe growing up, she was Willis - the only son of my mom's brother Tony and his wife Meya. The story of how that came to be goes much like any other transgender youth's story. Curiosity, shame, anger, internal questioning, external pressure, acceptance and yet continued hardship. Their relationship bloomed after Zoe had started to come into her own, and as Melanie was coming into her own. Unfortunately, they still felt immense scrutiny and pressure from the world around them, and tragically Zoe took her own life in June of 2018.
This isn't about Zoe, but for better or worse, Zoe is an integral part of my story with Melanie. Melanie has been an ardent advocate for transgender rights and I was very proud to be at the capitol when she was part of the massive crowd protesting and testifying against the Bathroom Bill in 2017. Here, she discusses the constant struggle as a transgender adult to develop a career in a society that does not and sometimes will not understand who you are.-Andy
Career vs. Identity - A Transgender Community Conundrum
When religious beliefs end careers and jobs, as a society do we have a responsibility to step up and work towards a solution?
In the LGBT community, where frequent discrimination occurs in public life, it’s easy for the more shocking headlines of murder, suicide and the infrequent success stories to overshadow one of the most common and often one of the biggest detractors of basic living requirements - Employment within the LGBT community and especially the transgender community, continue to be plagued with issues that range from constant harassment to loss of careers and jobs.
Too often members of our worldwide community must choose between hiding their identity at work or risk losing their source of income altogether and now in the current politically charged atmosphere there is a movement to publicly expose transgender members from the current administration. If employment cannot be protected from religious base discrimination for the transgender community then the quality of life and the ability to live will become harder and harsher for not just the transgender members of the community but the entire society where vulnerable individuals are under constant threat.
Employment is a facet of living that everyone, everywhere in the world deals with; it’s how we feed ourselves, clothes ourselves, maintain shelter, obtain medical treatment, enrich ourselves and society, progress as a species, and to define it under simple terms, live life. Yet imagine what happens when you can no longer work and provide yourself with the necessities of life. It might be due to illnesses, or injury, or possibly old age, but what about when its because those who hold the means of production, known more commonly as employers, choose to deny access to the resources you need to survive, based on immutable characteristics?
When you lose the means to provide for yourself some of the hardest questions that first come up are:
“Will I be able to pay rent on time?”;
“Will I have enough money for gas till I can find a job”;
“How far can I make that box of cereal last for my only source of food?”;
“Will my phone be cut off before I can find work again?”
In the openly visible transgender community these questions are common place and often the focus of many discussions between community leaders and members. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer without federal, state and even city level protections put into place to offer relief and provide justice against such discrimination.
One of the most damaging politically driven policies that directly affects the transgender community is the Health and Human Services Department’s push to define sex as based on biological traits identifiable at birth, while also erasing gender from every federal policy where it has the authority to do so.
The effect of such a policy would be the invalidation of federally recognized identities that do not necessarily match original birth certificates and would call into question the validity of established identities that afford citizens the right to work within the United States. Social Security identities could now become subject to matching birth records as well as state issued ID’s including Drivers licenses and passports, both which are the most common forms of picture ID’s needed to legally establish and maintain employment.
Yet these hypothetical situations are exacerbations of the common issue of employers either refusing to hire or firing transgender members who either are open about their gender identity or start physical transitions in the job place.
One such case is set to be heard before the supreme court in which Aimee Stephen’s was fired for announcing her intention to physically transition at a funeral home owned by Harris Funeral homes, where she held employment for several years. In this case her termination was not due to lack of merit or negatively job impacting behavior such as being late or stealing but rather her announced intention of medically transitioning was directly cited as the cause for her employment termination.
Her story is not unique, according to a report released by the watch dog group, Transequality.org, 1 in 6 transgender members citied announcing their intention to medically and physically transition as the reason an employer terminated their employment.
Such a move to redefine sex on legal documents based on an original birth certificate threatens to expose an employee's gender identity to their employers and sets a legal precedence to force transgender members to conform to “at time of birth” documents or be denied employment enabling identification.
The threat of discrimination in employment issues based on one’s gender identity is a relatively new issue being placed up for public debate. Up till the Obama administration the word transgender, or the older and widely offensive term transsexual, was rarely heard of in public outside of fringe media programs such as Jerry Springer. For most media outlets the first moments of exposure to transgender subjects and identities were cast in very negative light. During the Obama administration however, transgender issues came to public light and positive representation has led to a higher rate of acceptance, especially among younger age groups. Even with this new progress towards accepting transgender people’s immutable characteristics, there are still strongholds of religious biases working to smear and deface the positive momentum by equating the transgender community to rapists and criminals.
The most recent attack made by the Trump administration in the Department of Health and Human Services in regards to narrowly defining sex and removing the term “gender” from official statements highlights why the transgender community needs clear legal protections. Written into law on the Federal and State levels, these protections must bar discrimination on a person's immutable characteristics as well as the steps they take to outwardly express themselves in whatever way validates their gender identity.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that has been proposed in the US Congress multiple times, would directly address this lack of protection on a broad scale and would address the transgender and LGBTQIA communities’ common issues as they apply to each individual state. However, this act has yet to successfully reach the House or Senate floors with most opponents citing infringements on religious liberties as the reasoning behind denying protections for the transgender and the LGBTQIA community.
The solution to removing these road blocks is for the younger and larger majority that supports the transgender and LGBTQIA communities to make their voices heard and elect politicians whose general interests include protecting society from the “purity control” that threatens to injure and deface specific immutable characteristics of human beings.