In the transgender community, to have full-time work is to be in the minority. In fact, a new survey of 194 trans people conducted by the Transgender Law Center (TLC), with support from the Guardian, found that only one out of every four respondents has a full-time job. Another 16 percent work part-time.
What's more, 59 percent of respondents reported an annual salary of less than $15,333. Only 4 percent reported making more than $61,200, which is about the median income in the Bay Area.
In other words, more than half of local transgender people live in poverty, and 96 percent earn less than the median income. Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that 40 percent of those surveyed don't even have a bank account.
TLC doesn't claim the study is strictly scientific — all respondents were identified through trans organizations or outreach workers. But the data give a fairly good picture of how hard it is for transgender people to find and keep decent jobs, even in the city that is supposed to be most accepting of them.
It's been more than a decade since San Francisco expanded local nondiscrimination laws to cover trans people, but transphobic discrimination remains rampant. Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents said they've experienced some form of employment discrimination.
And interviews show that job woes are hardly straightforward.
Navigating the job-application process after a gender transition can be extraordinarily difficult. Trans people run up against fairly entrenched biases about what kind of work they're suited for. Sometimes those who are lucky enough to find work can't tolerate insensitive, or even abusive, coworkers.
Marilyn Robinson turned tricks for almost 20 years before she decided to look for legal employment. She got her GED and, eventually, a job at an insurance company. The first six months went OK, but then a supervisor "thought he had the right to call me RuPaul," she told us. "And I look nothing like RuPaul." Suddenly the women in the office refused to use the bathroom if Robinson was around. She left within a month.
Once again, Robinson was on the job hunt. She interviewed for a receptionist position, and thought it went well. But on her way out, she saw the interviewer toss her application into the trash with a giggle.
"The reality is, even a hoagie shop in the Castro — they might not hire you," she said.
Still, many activists say the increased attention being paid to trans employment issues is promising.
Cecelia Chung from the Transgender Law Center told us there's a "silver lining" in the effort the "community is putting into really changing the playing field. We're in a really different place than we were five years ago."
Activists say true progress will require broad education efforts and the cooperation of business owners throughout the Bay Area. But the project is well under way, with San Francisco Transgender Empowerment, Advocacy and Mentorship, a trans collaborative, hosting its second annual Transgender Job Fair March 22. More than a dozen employers have signed up for the fair, including UCSF, Goodwill Industries, and Bank of America.
Imagine trying to find a job with no references from previous employers. Now envision how it might feel to have interviewer after interviewer look at you askance — or even ask if you've had surgery on a fairly private part of your body.
These are just a couple of the predicaments trans job-seekers face.