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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Injustice at Every Turn -- Part II: Employment

--By Robyn

Scarlet Letter
The first two parts of my review of the report Injustice at Every Turn (pdf) were Who we are -- by the numbers and Part I: Education. Today we move on to employment.

As we saw last time, transgender people tend to have a higher level of educational attainment than the general public, but that does not translate into any employment benefit, as it does for other people. The lesson to be drawn was that discrimination trumps education.

Field work for this study was done from September 2008 through February 2009, with a large majority completing questionnaires during September. Accordingly, the employment statistics here largely precede the widespread layoffs and double digit unemployment that the nation as a whole experienced as the economy moved into a major recession. The data that follow show that due to discrimination, study participants were experiencing very high rates of unemployment and extremely poor employment conditions. Given that respondents were faring worse than
the nation as a whole before the recession led to large-scale layoffs, the data suggests that in the current crisis, transgender and gender non-conforming people are likely facing even higher unemployment than their gender-conforming peers.

44% of transgender respondents tell work colleagues that they are transgender and 33% of gender non-conforming respondents have shared that with colleagues at work. OUtness did not vary much by race, with the highest being multiracial respondents at 44% and the lowest being Asian respondents at 35%.

Additionally, 35% of respondents reported that most or all coworkers knew they were transgender or gender non-conforming and an additional 37% said that some or a few coworkers knew. Among those who transitioned, 50% reported "most" or "all" coworkers knew, 34% reported "some" or "a few" knew, and 16% claimed that nobody knew.

47% of respondents had experienced an adverse action (not getting a job, denied promotion, or fired) based on their gender status.

I went from making 40K, to nothing; I can barely get a part time job at a fast food restaurant.

26% reported losing their jobs directly due to gender identity/expression. For black respondents, the level was 32%, multiracial 36% and American Indian (36%). [It should be noted that almost all American Indian respondents reported being multiracial, so the last two figures are not independent]. For Latino/arespondents, the number was 30%, for whites 24%, and for Asians 14%.

MTF respondents reportedjob loss due to bias at a rate of 36%, while the rate for FTMs was 19%. 26% of those reporting job loss due to bias reported they were currently unemployed (this was, as was pointed out, mostly September 2008.. At the time of the surgery, the national unemployment rate was 7%). 28% of those who had lost a job due to bias had turned to the underground economy (sex work and/or dealing drugs). Those who lived in the south were most likely to have lost a job due to bias (30%). Education did have an affect, with the rate of job loss due to bias for those with no high school diploma being 37% and for those with only a high school diploma being 33%.

I was highly regarded at my new workplace until one of my old co-workers came in for an interview there and saw me. During his interview he told them all about me. He didn’t get the job, but I soon lost mine.

44% of respondents reported they did not get a job because they were transgender or gender non-conforming. It's legitimate to ask how they would know that was the reason. I would point out that people most often have no reason to hide their hostility or toward us. Particularly hard hit in this statistic were multiracial (56%) and American Indian (55%) respondents, although the group best off, Asians, still was measured at 40%.

61% of those who reported doing sex work, drug sales or other underground work said they had experienced discrimination in hiring in the traditional workforce.

There was also a gender bias at work. MTF respondents experienced discrimination in hiring at a rate of 55%, compared to 40% for FTMs.

23% of respondents reported being denied promotion because of their gender status. The hardest hit were were those with no high school diploma (33%) and those earning less than $10K per year (31%), Latino/a respondents (29%), multiracial (31%) and American Indian (31%) respondents. 29% of MTF respondents reported denial of promotion due to bias, compared to 18% for FTMs.

In September, 2008, when the national unemployment rate was 7%, the unemployment rate for respondents was 14%. Additionally 19% of respondents were out of the workforce and "not looking". Black respondents were unemployed at a rate of 28%, with Amerind respondents at 24% and Latino/a respondents at 18%. White respondents had an unemployment rate of 12% and Asians were at 10%.

44% of respondents reported being underemployed (working in the field I should not be in or a position for which I am over-qualified). For those who were multiracial, this rate was 56%, as it was for those making less than $10K per year.

I was a very respected lawyer before all of this, but lost my practice and clients, and have not been able to attract any new clients or get referrals or even get a job in my field for the past 8 years. Very frustrating because I don’t feel any less intelligent or less qualified, but others, both the public and lawyers, perceive me that way.

There seems to be a universal suspicion that a basic part of a sex-change procedure is removal of the brain.

Abuse in the workplace was near universal: 78% of respondents reported mistreatment at work, meaning they answered yes to at least one of the following categories:

50% were harassed by someone
48% had supervisors/coworkers inappropriately sharing information
45% were deliberately referred to by the wrong pronouns
44% did not get a job they applied for
41% were inappropriately asked about their genital status
32% were forced to present as the wrong gender in order to keep their job
26% lost their job
23% were denied promotion
22% were denied use of an appropriate bathroom.
21% were unable to work out a suitable bathroom situation
20% were removed from direct contact with clients
7% were physically assaulted at work
6% were sexually assaulted at work

The rates for transgender respondents in every one of those categories were higher than for those who were"merely" gender non-conforming. The rates of abuse were also higher for people of color than they were for the sample as a whole. Rates of abuse were also higher for those at the lowest rate of compensation and for those who worked in the underground economy.

FTMs had a higher rate of being asked about their genitals than MTFs (50% to 43%), and their was equality in being referred to deliberately by the wrong pronouns (51% to 51%) and working out a suitable bathroom situation (23% to 23%), but in all other categories, MTFs suffered abuse at higher rates than FTMs. Also, in ever case, transgender people were maltreated more frequently than those who were labeled as gender non-conforming.

Physical assault in the workplace was highest among Latino/a respondents (20%), while the rate for black respondents was 14%, and Native Americans 12%. For whites and Asians, the rate was 5%. Those assaulted were more likely to have no HS diploma (23%), or only a HS diploma (12%), although even those with a graduate degree came in at 5%.

Sexual assault was also highest for Latino/a respondents, at 17%, while at 14% for blacks, 11% for Native Americans, 9% for Multiracial, 7% for Asian, and 4% for white. 10% of those earning less than $10K per year were sexually assaulted at work…compared to 3% of those earning more than $100K per year.

When one of my colleagues found out I was born female, I was forced to use the bathroom in another part of the building where I worked, because he said that I made the ‘real’ men uncomfortable with my presence. Now, I look like a bio- male, and the only reason they knew about my status is because a supervisor found out, and spread my business to the other supervisors and friends. I had to walk 5 minutes to another building, which impeded my break times.

22% of the sample had been denied access to gender-appropriate restrooms at work. By race, this was 32% for Latino/a respondents, 30% for multiracial, 27% for American Indian, 22% for black, 20% for white, and 18% for Asian. Those whose earnings were at the lower end of the spectrum encountered this most.

My former employer outs me anytime a prospective employer calls.

57% of respondents reported delaying their gender transition in order to avoid discriminatory actions and workplace abuse, while 71% reported that they "hid my gender or gender transition.

Given the importance of transition for many people, it is striking that well over half of our respondents delayed this life-affirming, and often live-saving step. Even more alarming is that nearly three-quarters of respondents reported they felt they had to hide who they are on a daily basis for job security.

Many other respondents stayed in jobs they would have rather left (45%) or didn't seek promotions or raises (30%) in order to avoid discrimination. 42% changed jobs in order to escape discrimination.

14% of respondents reported that because of their gender identity, their spouse experienced job discrimination. Respondents who had lost a job due to biasreported discrimination of their spouse or partner at a rate of 28%. Children of respondents experienced discrimination in the workplace at a rate of 11%, which rises to 25% for the children of those who lost a job due to bias.

78% of transgender men and 79% of transgender women reported improved jobsituations after they transitioned.

11% of respondents did sex work for income. This rate was 15% for MTFs and 7% for FTMs. By race, 44% of black respondents reported sex work, with Latino/arepondents a distant second at 28%, multiracial at 19%, American indian at 17%, Asian at 11% and white at 6%. Those with no high school diploma reported a 33% rate of sex work, compared to those with college degrees at 7%. Even 6% of those with graduate degrees had engaged in sex work.

Respondents who had engaged in sex work were more likely to have reported homelessness due to bias (48%) compared to a rate of 19% of the overall sample and 7.4% of the general public.

Participants who did sex work were three times more likely to have been incarcerated (48%) than the the overall sample (16%). They were also 25 times as likely to be HIV+ (15.32%) than the general population (0.6%). Also those who had done sex work were more likely to be smokers (49%) than the overall sample (30%) and more likely to misuse drugs and alcohol (18%) compared to the overall sample (8%).

I object to that a bit. I know how to use drugs very well.

Attempted suicide among those who had done sex work was at a much higher rate (60%) than the overall sample (41%) and more than 37 times the rate for the general population (1.6%).

Making the connections:

Respondents who had lost a job due to gender bias were more than 6 times as likely to be living on a household income of less than $10K (24%) than the general population (4%) and nearly twice as likely to be living on an income between $10K and $20K (17%) than the general population (9%). They were 4 times more likely to experience homelessness due to bias (40%) than those who did not lose a job due to bias (10%). They were 85% more likely to have been incarcerated for any reason than those who did not lose a job. They have an HIV rate of 4.59%, over 7 times the rate for the general population and more than twice the rate for those who did not lose a job (2.06%). They were 70% more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and more likely to attempt suicide (55%) than those who did not lose a job due to bias (38%) .

I was fired from a good job because I tried to transition on the job. I then lived on menial employment for over 3 years before finally landing another good one that was full-time job and had benefits. At one point, I had an offer of employment withdrawn after the would- be employer found out I was transgender.


  • Federal, state, and local laws should be enacted to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.

  • Government agencies should implement laws through regulations, compliance guidelines, training, and publicized decisions by enforcement agencies.

  • Corporations should enact and enforce their own gender identity/expression non-discrimination policies.

  • Government agencies at all levels should develop transgender-specific workforce development programs, or modify existing programs, to train and match transgender and gender non-conforming people to the best jobs available.

  • Labor organizations should ensure that contracts include gender identity/expression nondiscrimination clauses, train union officers and rank-and-file on the importance of nondiscrimination in the workplace, and how to process grievances related to discriminatory treatment.

  • Governments should focus their resources on providing meaningful pathways out of poverty, such as by increasing employment opportunities for transgender and gender non-conforming people, rather than expending significant resources on arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating those doing sex work.


  1. The report is really a treasure trove of data...much of it rather depressing. But what is most depressing is the likelihood that all the recommendations will be ignored.

  2. Sobering statistics,thanks for the review Robyn.