Santa Clara County LGBTQ office issues employment study

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Thursday December 1, 2022
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Santa Clara County Office of LGBTQ Affairs manager Sera Fernando oversaw a study that examined transgender and nonbinary people's workplace experiences. Photo: Courtesy Office of LGBTQ Affairs
Santa Clara County Office of LGBTQ Affairs manager Sera Fernando oversaw a study that examined transgender and nonbinary people's workplace experiences. Photo: Courtesy Office of LGBTQ Affairs

Sera Fernando, manager at Santa Clara County's Office of LGBTQ Affairs, is alarmed by the findings in a new study released by her office about transgender and nonbinary employment in the county.

The 79-page report, "Transgender, Nonbinary, and Gender Expansive Employment Study," is the first of its kind for the county. The study was completed in June and publicly released in October.

The study explores the range of barriers, problems, and successes transgender and nonbinary people face in their jobs and career paths. The LGBTQ affairs office is housed in the county's Division of Equity and Social Justice.

Community, business, and government members and leaders are invited to discuss the study's findings at a virtual town hall discussion hosted by the LGBTQ Affairs Office December 1 at 3 p.m.

"Although Santa Clara County looks to be affirming and accepting of a trans and gender-nonconforming workforce, especially being part of the Bay Area in proximity to San Francisco and Oakland, data shows that there's still much more work to do," Fernando wrote in an email interview with the Bay Area Reporter about the study's findings.

A total of 234 trans and nonbinary people living or working in Santa Clara County participated in the research, according to the report.

Fernando wrote that she was not surprised by the number of Black, Indigenous, and people of color — Asian/Pacific Islander (25%), Latinx (24%), Black (11%) — that made up 62% of participants and reported experiencing racial and ethnic discrimination in addition to bias against their gender identity or expression.

"The study points to the elevated levels of discrimination from BIPOC participants," Fernando wrote. That "resonated with me as a queer Filipina transwoman."

White participants represented 38% of the study respondents.

Fernando was surprised that despite inclusive policies at some companies "amongst co-workers and colleagues, some participants, especially those in customer-facing environments, are not offered the same protections when interacting with customers," she wrote.

"Although some of the findings in this study might be alarming to read," she continued, "the importance of knowing how trans and gender-nonconforming community members are experiencing the workplace will serve as a strong baseline as to what employers need to do to be more accepting and affirming of an increasingly diverse workforce."

Key findings

Fernando noted the top three key findings in the study were financial hardship; gender identity and expression discrimination; and transgender-affirming workplaces in the county.

"Most participants are financially struggling," she wrote about one of the study's top three findings. The study found that 70% of participants reported struggling or barely making enough money to get by. Only 44% of participants were employed full-time, while 12% were unemployed. Despite about half (46%) of participants holding a bachelor's degree or higher, participants' level of education compared to their income was low: 42% of participants had an income under $25,000 and 35% were between $25,000 and $75,000.

"A quarter of participants that experienced discrimination were told that they would not be hired due to their gender identity/expression," she wrote, adding "that participants will likely leave an employer to work for an entity that is more trans-affirming."

In a tight labor market, Fernando pointed to the importance and benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion training programs, and policies for local governments, small businesses, and corporations in attracting top talent.

Zeroing in on the South Bay

The purpose of the study is to get a pulse on the county's transgender and nonbinary workforce's experiences, and provide insights and recommendations that will improve employment prospects for them to reach their full employment potential. It is also to help local governments, small businesses, and corporations that hire and employ transgender and nonbinary people to create affirming workplaces.

Santa Clara County is the sixth most populous county in California with 1.9 million people, according to the 2020 census. The study noted the San Francisco Bay Area's acceptance of LGBTQ people is high, especially in San Francisco and Oakland, but in the South Bay, which has tended to be more conservative, factors of acceptance "have been lower."

Researchers noted in the study's introduction that little information is known about the status of transgender and nonbinary employment opportunities and jobs. What sparse data is available is mostly on the national level. The data doesn't delve into the specific details of regions, counties, or cities.

To better understand transgender and nonbinary people's employment opportunities and realities in the workplace in the county, the office commissioned San Francisco-based LGBTQ research firm Community Marketing and Insights to conduct the study.

The researchers sought to understand the participants' perceptions of real-life barriers (career development, goal-setting, seeking and securing employment, and employment and being in the workplace), increased job opportunities and income, and how employment discrimination affects their mental and physical health. Participants expressed their five- and 10-year financial goals and how to reach them while balancing other life objectives. The researchers explored what accommodations, policies, and practices in the hiring process and in the workplace could help transgender and nonbinary community members thrive in the workplace. The researchers sought community-based narratives and tips to overcome obstacles to seeking employment and advancing in the workplace.

Between November 2021 and April 2022, CMI conducted 20-minute online surveys of 234 self-identifying transgender and nonbinary participants aged 18 to 70 living and/or working in Santa Clara County. The survey was available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Tagalog, and Chinese. Participants who opted to assist with further research participated in one of six virtual focus groups. There were 30 in-depth 45-minute virtual interviews. Of the participants in the in-depth interviews, 25 represented transgender and nonbinary people who discussed their personal employment experiences, and five were transgender and nonbinary leaders and/or professionals working with the county's transgender and nonbinary communities.

Participants — 86% who live in the county and 14% who live in neighboring counties but work in Santa Clara County — were found through more than 100 local agencies and organizations working with the LGBTQ community; paid ads on social media, Craigslist, and the B.A.R.; and participants' personal networks.

Just under half (47%) of the participants lived in San Jose, with representation across the county in urban and rural areas.

Participants were paid a $20 e-card incentive for completing the survey and a $75 e-card for completing an in-depth interview or focus group.

Researchers noted limiting factors in the data collection such as internet access; computer literacy; connection to the county's LGBTQ community and social service agencies and organizations serving the county's queer community; and the financial incentive. The financial incentive might have been a motivating factor for more lower-income participants than higher-income participants, the report stated. These factors may have resulted in underrepresentation of unhoused individuals, older people (there were fewer respondents over the age of 50), those with low computer literacy skills, and those who are less connected to the county's LGBTQ community and agencies and organizations serving its queer population, the report noted.


The study's insights and recommendations focus on the hiring process, workplace experiences, combatting discrimination, and potential policies and programs.

Recommendations included transgender- and nonbinary-specific employment programs from entry-level to the professional level to self-employment and audits to hold programs accountable. Sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, or SOGIE, training is recommended for employers to create transgender and nonbinary-affirming workplaces. Support services for transgender and nonbinary residents and employees are recommended to help meet basic needs, along with and affirming medical care, and educational financial aid and legal aid.

The survey included checklists for community members and businesses to help meet the recommendations.

Fernando expressed hope that community members, leaders, and organizations; local government and government agencies; and businesses recognize the study's recommendations come from the county's transgender and gender nonbinary residents and employees' "lived experience."

"Participants took the time out to share their experiences and thoughtfully craft recommendations on how we all could improve the workplace," Fernando wrote. "It's up to all of us to strategically implement relevant recommendations to create a work environment inclusive of everyone."

To register for the virtual town hall, click here.


To learn more about transgender and gender nonbinary people working and living in Santa Clara County, you can read the report and watch the special video produced by county's Office of LGBTQ Affairs and CMI in conjunction with the report.

To watch the December 1 town hall, click here.

To receive updates about Transgender Economic Empowerment in Santa Clara County, or to be considered to join a task force to help develop the next steps, complete this survey.

To learn more about what the Office of LGBTQ Affairs is doing, subscribe to its YouTube Channel or sign up for its newsletter at the office's website.

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