The 70 percent solution

by Gwendolyn Ann Smith

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A recent survey by Out & Equal Workplace Advocated held a somewhat surprising number: roughly seven out of 10 straight adults feel that performance, not gender identity or expression, should be the standard in judging job performance in the workplace. This is a huge shift, given that the workplace has long been one of the big stumbling blocks for transgender people.

So often, we lose jobs when we transition, or we leave them before they can get rid of us, simply opting to start anew somewhere else.

We often find the road to employment rocky, with us being laughed out of interviews both figuratively and literally. When we do land something, it is usually at the lowest pay possible, and in positions without a lot of upward mobility. Often, it is also an employment situation well below out skill level, simply because it was all we could get.

For some of us, too, we find ourselves to be nearly unemployable due to the number of issues with acceptance of our transgender selves. I won't even get into issues with company provided health insurance not covering our needs as transgender people, or the troubles that crop up when the Social Security Administration outs you to your employer because their records indicate a different name or gender than you are providing.

This happens so often that the 30 percent minority who does want to discriminate against transgender people is vocal and influential. They'll find a way to make the workplace uncomfortable, or will find ways to get rid of us. Likewise, it might be easy for someone to say they'd have no issues while filling out a survey, but harder for them to accept a real example in their own workplace.

I know that when I came out way back when, the human resources department of what was a very sizable national company had never heard of this happening. They had no idea how to handle this. I had to do all the education myself, and was expected to be understanding of their needs, even if they were otherwise unacceptable. In no way was my human resources staff expected to actually do any of the work themselves. I hate to say it, too, but my experience is still common today.

Rather than continue to look at the negatives, however, let's consider the other side of the coin.

At 70 percent, we should no longer be falling for the belief that a gender inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act is not a viable option. For that matter, we should fight for more state and local protections. We should be pressing for our needs to be part of the modern, 21st century workplace. We should have our needs met just as other co-workers are, and we should not be expected to be the ones singled out.

We should also consider how much work got us to this point, and be thankful for those who did it. Meanwhile, we should work on that other 30 percent, and show them that we are simply trying to do our best at our job - you know, like all the other non-transgender people in the workplace.

I want to see a world where we can all get jobs, not just the non-transgendered, and not just those of us who exercise a so-called "passing privilege" in order to stay in the workplace. I want it to be irrelevant that one is transgender on the job - it should not matter. To be honest, being able to make it through the challenges of life as a transwoman should be a positive to a forward thinking employer, not a negative at all. You try managing all this and making it work, you know?

In the end, any good employer should know one thing about their transgender employees: We just want to work. We want to do a good job, and we want to be rightfully compensated. This is not hard to understand. Ultimately, that is all that matters, and all that should matter. I'm glad that 70 percent of people seem to understand this.

Gwen Smith has a resume, and she is not afraid to use it. You can find her on the web at http://www.gwensmith.com

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