Not Safe at Work: Transgender Workers of Color

By, Aria Maryn


Despite the advances that have been made for LGBTQ equality in the last few years, the world can still be a very difficult place for people who identify as transgender. These difficulties are especially apparent in the working world where trans people consistently struggle to obtain and maintain employment. Though it’s tough for all trans people, the deck seems to be particularly stacked against trans people of color.

A new report from Colorlines (an online magazine) sheds more light on this issue. One article, “How to Get Away with Harassing, Firing, or Never Even Hiring a Trans Worker of Color,” begins with the story of Chance Lombardi, a transgender man of color who faced discrimination at the hands of the U.S. Postal Service. He lost his job, was harassed about his gender identity and race, and even discovered a noose in the back room of his second U.S.P.S. job – the one he took to get away from the discrimination he faced at his first job.

Colorlines reminds us that discrimination against transgender people in the workplace is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that that discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender “is, by definition, discrimination ‘based on . . . sex,’ and such discrimination therefore violates Title VII.” In other words, anti-transgender discrimination is per se sex discrimination. However, based on the way many employers act, it’s easy to forget that the protections of Title VII extend to the transgender community.

When people try to take discriminatory employers to court for their actions, they often wait years for their cases to go to trial. Colorlines discusses the case of Patricia Dawson, a trans woman who was fired from her job as an electrician. She tried to file a Title VII complaint in early 2013, but the case wasn’t approved until the summer of 2014.

So what are we supposed to do? The first thing is to become educated. Colorlines has a companion article called “8 Ways to Fight Anti-Trans Bias on the Job” that all transgender and gender non-conforming people should read. There’s also a lot of work that can be done by allies and others who don’t identify as transgender or gender non-conforming.

Chances are, you’ve seen transphobia in action at your workplace. Whether it’s an off-hand comment about a customer, a joke at the water cooler, or the sharing of transphobic videos or articles. Instances like these are chances for you to make a difference. If you see transphobia at your place at work, don’t be afraid to stand up and call it out. The LGBTQ community is working hard, but achieving equality without the help of our allies is much more difficult than if our allies support us.

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Our community is calling on our government executives, our court systems, and our citizens in general to make the world a safer place for LGBTQ people. Trans people of color are valuable workers with unique and outstanding insights that cannot be found elsewhere. Employers should listen to and appreciate their voices, rather than working so hard to silence them.