Advocates say program would be 'an amazing project'
Transgendered people often have difficulty finding work. That's why cities such as Toronto and San Francisco have a specific employment centre to help members of that community find a job. But Calgary has yet to establish a similar centre, even though advocates suggest having one would be great for the transgendered community.
According to 2011 statistics from the National Center for Transgender Equality in the United States, transgender and gender non-conforming people are unemployed at alarming rates. Overall, the unemployment rate for respondents was 14 percent — double the weighted U.S. national average at the time of the survey.
Another finding showed 47 per cent of survey respondents said they have experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired or denied a promotion because of being transgender or gender non-conforming.
That's exactly why there are organizations such as Toronto-based THRIVE!, which is solely dedicated to providing employment support for individuals who identify themselves as transgender, transsexual, two-spirited (a Native person who feels they manifest both a masculine and feminine spirit) or gender variant.
William Hines, THRIVE! coordinator, stated that how convincing people look in their new gender role — a quality known as "passing" — could be a hindrance in the job market, regardless of what credentials they have.
"Someone might have an excellent resume, excellent skills, experience, education, you know, references [and] what not, but if they aren't necessarily a passing trans person people can be very discriminatory," he said.
Mercedes Allen, coordinator for the AlbertaTrans community support website in Calgary, voiced a similar concern. She said "passing" — a concept she doesn't like — can unfortunately make a difference when it comes to transgender individuals seeking employment.
In light of this discrimination, employment centres serve as a liaison between individuals in the transgender community and potential employers in hopes of preventing issues such as "passing" from occurring.
For example, at THRIVE! — part of Fred Victor Employment and Training Services — clients newly transitioning or in the final stages of transitioning, can get assistance from an employment specialist and job developer to professionally assist them with these changes not only in their lifestyle but in their workplaces as well.
THRIVE! also helps clients change the identification and documentation they need to apply for jobs. According to Calgary Outlink —— which is the main LGBTQ centre in the city — simply changing an individual's name can cost approximately $285 and can take up to three weeks to process. It is important that services such as THRIVE! exist to support individuals with legal logistics of transitioning one's identity.
In San Francisco, similar employment support is available through the San Francisco LGBTQ Centre and the Transgender Employment Services program.
Established in 2007, the Transgender Employment Services program (TEEI) has placed approximately 100 transgendered people with trans-friendly employers annually, said its employment manager, Clair Farley.
"It's a really exciting collaboration," she said.
TEEI works in partnership with the San Francisco Law Centre to assist those who experience discrimination while applying for work, or those who experience discrimination in their current roles.
But according to Farley there is still a lot of discrimination, even in San Francisco towards members of the transgendered community. She states about 70 percent of transgendered people are unemployed and have been discriminated against. Farley also says transgendered women of colour are six times as likely to be underemployed.
But as diverse a city Calgary is, there is no specific transgender employment centre to connect transgender individuals with jobs that understand their unique needs.
"Yes, people have said they have a hard time finding work," said Allen at AlbertaTrans.
Allen suggests other advocacy work for the transgender community in Calgary has taken precedence over creating a trans-specific resource to assist individuals seeking employment.
"The biggest issues facing trans people have been finding medical professionals, correcting ID, finding housing/shelter and general education. So there hasn't yet been much work done in this regard that I know of," she said.
According to Brett Mason, executive director and support worker for Calgary Outlink, simply getting basic and adequate health care services is proving hard for members of the community.
He said the ability to receive hormone therapy is more difficult in Calgary than people know.
"Often people are waiting one to two years to see the gender specialist, and that's a really long time," he said.
Mason said Calgary Outlink advocates for as many trans issues as it can, including employment issues.
However, Mason said the implementation of a transgender-specific employment centre would be an amazing project for the future.
"It's a really great program idea and I think it's needed because, like I said, trans people are so much more likely to live in poverty than people who aren't trans. But it's a pretty long way off for Calgary."
- By Ato Baako