Misha Valentina says she’s won two lawsuits against previous employers for being unfairly terminated due to her transition from male to female. (Avishay Artsy/KQED)
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, employers set up displays in a big white tent at Los Angeles Trade-Tech College for what was billed as the first transgender career fair in South L.A.
Seventy-six employers showed up, ranging from Starbucks and Trader Joe’s to Bank of America and Disney. Brochures were laid out along with applications for entry-level to senior management positions. Organizers say 772 job seekers showed up.
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“I've been to interviews and it went well, but then they end up coming up with like some bullshit excuse,” said Misha Valentina, a caretaker and freelance aesthetician and makeup artist who attended the event to find a steady job. She says she’s lost out on jobs because "it's easier to go with the cisgender candidate."
"It's not that I'm not experienced, and it's not that I'm not qualified, it's just that this company isn't ready to cater to a girl like me," she said.
People who identify as transgender are more likely to have difficulty finding work and keeping their jobs. Studies have found that the unemployment rate for transgender workers is two to three times higher than it is for the overall U.S. workforce.
According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, “thirty percent of respondents who had a job reported being fired, denied a promotion, or experiencing some other form of mistreatment in the workplace due to their gender identity or expression, such as being verbally harassed or physically or sexually assaulted at work.”
In 2017, California expanded protections of transgender people in the workplace. These new regulations, among other things, bar employers from asking about a person’s sex, gender identity or gender expression; requires employers to use the employee’s preferred gender, name or pronoun; and expands protections to include “transitioning” employees.
Still, companies can do more, says Rex Wilde, program director for the nonprofit TransCanWork.
“The best way to become a trans affirming employer is to provide gender inclusion trainings to all of your staff from the top to the bottom,” Wilde said. The career fair began with a gender inclusion training seminar for all participating employers.
Wilde said the job seekers ranged from recent high school graduates to people with master’s degrees and with military experience.
“The industry is changing drastically and we are casting a wider net,” said Chantel Diaz, coordinator of global diversity and inclusion for AEG, the live sports and entertainment company. “The equity of the people that you have working for your company is very important. A lot of companies that are more diverse do better.”
This event was billed as the first South L.A. transgender career fair. South L.A. is roughly 64 percent Latino and 31 percent black, and transgender people of color face even more barriers to finding professional work.
“This is where the homeless rates are very high — 41 percent and above,” said Rizi Timane, transgender health program manager at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center.
Timane says trans people of color are especially at risk of financial instability, which leads to higher risk of homelessness, depression and suicide.
“In an internal survey of St. John's patients, we have about 2,500-plus trans patients, and 50 percent of them registered as homeless. And it's all part of the employment discrimination, not having jobs, it's all intertwined,” he said.
Organizers hope to make the South L.A. transgender career fair an annual event.