It’s hard finding work right now, but for transfolk it’s even worse. A 2009 study concludes transgender people are “twice as likely to be unemployed as other Americans, and face even higher rates of unemployment if they’re people of color.” And don’t even get us started about applying for health benefits.
When Jetta, a transwoman, openly began transitioning at her university job, her co-workers stopped talking to her or tiptoed around the subject. “It was almost worse than the awkward, intrusive questions I get asked. No one likes being the elephant in the room,” Jetta says. “They were afraid if they said something and I went to HR and said I’d been made to feel awkward, they’d be forced to attend a seminar. They were more afraid of that, a seminar on tolerance, than even losing their jobs.”
So to find a more comfortable and accepting workplace, she relocated to San Francisco. But a lot of businesses aren’t hiring, and acknowledging her trans-identity during interviews often felt like a liability, especially without ENDA protecting her from discrimination.
“Every job interview becomes a poker game,” Jetta says. “They always ask about your private life… You either have to lie to hide your identity, and I cannot lie about who I am, or you tell them and find out that they didn’t want to know.”
Then there’s the case of Riley, a 28-year-old transman applying for unemployment benefits after losing his job as a New York teacher’s aide. His New York State license identifies him as male, but his Social Security card and Georgia birth certificate both identify him as female. Because federal programs like Medicaid require one’s gender to match on their ID and paperwork (just like they do for names and social security numbers, duh), sorting out this very basic unemployment benefit suddenly became a humiliating and protracted ordeal with lots of questions about his trans history. In the end, he had to accept a Medicaid card listing him as female—despite his male identity—just so to receive care.
The Social Security Administration still requires trans people to undergo gender reassignment to officially change genders, but the administration isn’t clear on what sort of surgery, or its extremes, one needs. And how’s one supposed to afford gender reassignment surgery anyway when they can’t get employer-sponsored health coverage to begin with?