By Kyla Bender-Baird
WeNews guest author
Sunday, November 20, 2011
The history of extending workplace protections to transgender people has more losses than victories, says Kyla Bender-Baird in her book "Transgender Employment Experiences." In this excerpt, she calls for nuanced policies backed by cultural change.
Due to the lack of clear and consistent policy protections, it is often unclear if discrimination perpetrated against a transgender person is illegal. This lack of clarity leaves many trans people vulnerable to rampant discrimination without any obvious vehicle for recourse. On the other hand, the current state of policy protections (or their near absence) offers an opportunity.
As the legal landscape for transgender employment protections is literally still being written, advocates have the opportunity to shape policy so that it captures the nuances and subtleties of discrimination as experienced by trans people. Like the influence of feminist analysis in the development of sexual harassment law, non-discrimination laws must reflect the experiences of trans people.
By using lived experiences to shape policy decisions, more robust laws that provide actual protection may be passed. At the same time, however, it must be understood that no one policy will solve transgender employment discrimination. After all, transgender Californians have been protected from employment discrimination since 2004, but in a recent survey 70 percent of transgender respondents reported experiencing workplace discrimination and harassment directly related to their gender identity.
Laws and policies at multiple levels must be accompanied by cultural change to fight transphobia in U.S. society. Passing a federal employment non-discrimination act is only one leg of this multipronged strategy. Individual workplace policies, sensitivity training and raising public awareness are also essential to ending employment discrimination. Additionally, while employment discrimination is a problem for the transgender population that cannot be ignored— especially as employment is so closely tied to health care, housing and other such basic needs—advocates must also recognize that the transgender population faces multiple discriminations outside the arena of employment.
A truly effective strategy must incorporate meeting the daily needs of transgender people in addition to challenging the structures of power (including race, class, sexuality and physical and mental ability in addition to gender) that often act as barriers to meeting these basic needs.
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Kyla Bender-Baird is a doctoral student at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. She focuses on the sociology of gender, bodies and the law.
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