TG job, health efforts get funding
by Zak Szymanski
"I went into one job interview expecting to discuss my skills," Macy Roberts, a transgender woman who recently lived in California, told the Bay Area Reporter. "Instead I was asked questions about my bathroom habits, and they wondered if I would have anything in common with the other female employees. I definitely felt like the criteria was different for me because of my transgender status."
Trenton, a stealth FTM who lives in the Bay Area and asked that his last name not be used, agreed that his transgender status has hindered his career. Once, he said, an employer learned about his "former identity" and mistakenly equated Trenton's nondisclosure with "fraud," treating him as untrustworthy and thus not promotable within the company.
It's no secret that the transgender population alone makes significantly less money than the LGBT community at large, and that employment discrimination â€“ even in liberal areas like San Francisco â€“ continues to occur in overt as well as more nuanced ways. A recent survey conducted by the Transgender Law Center in conjunction with the San Francisco Bay Guardian showed that 59 percent of transgender respondents made less than $15,299 annually, with only 8 percent earning above $45,000 annually. For many transgender people, according to TLC director Chris Daley, it's not just a matter of being unemployed, but underemployed despite being qualified for a range of positions. Others simply are not reached by most employment recruitment strategies or job training programs.
Hoping to improve the possibilities of the transgender community, the budget committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Thursday, June 29, approved $300,000 in the 2006 budget toward the "Comprehensive Transgender Employment Initiative," an effort geared toward transgender economic empowerment. The unanimous vote â€“ championed by Supervisors Bevan Dufty and Chris Daly â€“ effectively earmarked $200,000 in general funds to increase opportunities for transgender employees and entrepreneurs through employment and mentorship programs. Additionally, two city agencies â€“ the Public Utilities Commission and the airport â€“ provided a combined $100,000 toward helping to identify, train, and hire qualified transgender individuals who suit their needs.
"The Comprehensive Transgender Employment Initiative is a great investment for San Francisco," said a statement from Dufty. "Too many well qualified transgender people who want to work or start businesses are frozen out of the market. The initiative is a vital first step in making sure that this community can fully participate and contribute to the wellbeing of our great city."
In addition to Daly and Dufty, board President Aaron Peskin, and Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Sean Elsbernd also voted for the funding. The budget must still be approved by he full board.
Funding for the initiative will be managed by the city's Human Services Agency, which oversees workforce development. The effort to secure the funding was originally led by the city's Harvey Milk and Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic clubs, according to TLC's Daley, with help from the San Francisco LGBT Community Center and SFTEAM who run similar efforts, including the center's transgender job fair.
"It was a collaborative effort, and it went very smoothly," Dufty told the B.A.R. this week. "I didn't have to go down fighting. The committee members were all sympathetic to it. People got it."
Dufty said he is particularly pleased with the partnership extended by the airport and PUC, whose support means that some of the funds will be "specifically geared toward generating candidates for employment at those two enterprises."
"As departments, they do the most hiring and make the most money for the city and are very strong prospective employers. I'm really pleased that John Martin, the gay man who is the director of the airport, and Susan Leal, the lesbian director of the PUC, have been so incredibly supportive of this vision," said Dufty.
"Our hope is that this is one of three years of investment on the part of the city and county to create historic opportunities for San Francisco's transgender communities," said Daley. "So many people in the community are in jobs that are interesting but it's really tough to meet their basic needs, yet they feel like they have to stay in those jobs because of the employment climate. Transgender people shouldn't feel like they only have one option for employment."
Part of changing the employment climate transgender people face might extend beyond hiring practices, added Daley, who said that employers need to be aware of the differing needs and rights of transgender employees. For instance, some transgender people want to be out at work, and have a right to do so without suffering discrimination or lack of respect for their gender identity. Others choose not to come out, recognizing that unlike being out as gay, disclosing one's transsexual status is often inherently linked to disclosing private medical information. But anyone whose gender presentation is considered nontraditional is at risk for employment discrimination, said Daley, and the funds as they are utilized will go toward anybody who self-identifies along the transgender spectrum.
Separately, Daley and the TLC staff also received some good news last month from the California Endowment, a private, statewide health foundation that awarded TLC's Health Care Access Project $138,000 over a two-year period. The grant, one of the largest ever made to a transgender civil rights organization, will be used to increase the cultural competency of healthcare services available to transgender people in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County.
"We are committed to removing barriers to appropriate and equitable health for all underserved communities, including transgender individuals and their families," said a statement from Ignatius Bau, program director at the California Endowment. "This grant provides TLC with resources to educate community members about their rights to culturally competent care and to help health care providers better serve the health care needs of transgender people."
One immediate goal is to help local counties expand trans-specific services. More area clinics, for instance, may soon be able to start offering transgender healthcare one night a week.
"The experience of transgender-specific healthcare clinics in San Francisco and San Diego is that community members are more likely to be seek out care when they know they'll be treated well and get sound medical advice," said Cecilia Chung, TLC's deputy director. "We've also seen how having a transgender healthcare clinic in San Francisco has advanced knowledge about transgender specific health care needs and increased the pool of health care professionals trained to competently serve transgender patients."
Rather than attempting first to train more general physicians about transgender medical needs, said Daley, San Francisco has found that clinics geared toward specific populations often go on to serve as national models and "really build the competency of the medical profession as a whole."
And because many transgender medical interventions are not covered by insurance, offering the services through sliding-scale clinics allows lower-income people to access them safely and more affordably, he said.
In addition to the California Fund's award, the Liberty Hill Foundation of Los Angeles also recently approved a $25,000 grant to FTM Alliance of LA and TLC for similar healthcare access work in Los Angeles County.