All across America, transgender and gender non-conforming people face serious barriers when it comes to securing and keeping employment. So when New York City’s Commission on Human Rights issued guidance in December 2015 that strengthened nondiscrimination protections in employment, housing, and public accommodations, it was lauded as a move that would surely help.
A new report released Tuesday by the NYC Anti-Violence Project (AVP), however, finds that widespread transphobic discrimination persists in the city’s job market. In fact, the report, titled Individual Struggles, Widespread Injustice, finds trans and gender non-conforming (TGNC) New Yorkers are unemployed at rates five times higher than the general population.
And while the report focuses on New York City’s population, in many ways it reads like just one sample of a national problem. Nationally, trans and GNC people are unemployed at rates around three times higher than the general population, according to the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey.
“Even with these protections, I think what TGNC New Yorkers experience in terms of getting jobs, dealing with trans issues in the workplace, and reporting discrimination have a lot in common with other places around the country,” AVP’s director of community organizing and public advocacy Audacia Ray told INTO. “Implementing change in workplaces — especially privately owned businesses (as opposed to city agencies), is really difficult.”
AVP’s report makes clear the barriers to employment are coming from employers themselves, not job seekers. Trans and non-binary New Yorkers are more educated than the general population, yet more likely to live in poverty and struggle to find jobs. Seventy-eight percent of white trans and GNC residents reported having bachelor’s degrees, along with 43 percent of people of color in the population. Yet both groups are vastly more likely to make less than $10,000 a year.
“There’s a long history of marginalized people being told they just need to get educated to improve their lots in life,” Ray told INTO, “But the report shows really clearly that individual TGNC people attaining education doesn’t break down systemic barriers for the whole community.”
The problems start with the job search, when 57 percent of trans and gender non-conforming city residents report filling out employment forms that don’t provide options matching their gender identity.
Despite it being illegal under New York state law, 31 percent of trans and non-binary residents said they were asked about their assigned sex at birth when applying for jobs.
And in perhaps the most complicating barrier, most trans and non-binary people who said they faced employment discrimination said they didn’t feel like they could report it to their supervisor — because their supervisor was the one discriminating against or harassing them.
Under the 2015 Commission on Human Rights guidance, employers can face fines of up to $250,000 for violating nondiscrimination protections by doing things like intentionally refusing to refer to someone by their preferred name or pronoun or blocking access to restrooms and locker rooms based on gender identity.
Misgendering, said Ray, is one of the most common and frequent experiences of discrimination that trans and gender non-conforming New Yorkers experience in the workplace. Coworkers, employers, or prospective employers intentionally using the wrong pronouns or names for TGNC people can lead to an ongoing hostile environment.
“These daily experiences, though some might say they are minor or microaggressions, really wear on people and make them not trust their coworkers and supervisors, and it has an impact on their ability to work and maintain mental wellness,” Ray told INTO.
To combat transphobic workplace discrimination, AVP’s report recommends updating employment forms to include expanded gender identity options, increasing job training programs, including TGNC people in the city’s Minority and Woman-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) Program, and extending the discrimination complaint window to three years. Currently, New Yorkers only have one year to file a discrimination complaint with the city’s human rights commission.