On Saturday, MetroHealth hospital in Cleveland hosted its third annual #transgender job fair. Employers and supportive nonprofit groups tabled at the event to share information and meet with prospective employees. Christine Howey, actress, director and poet, gave the keynote presentation, “I’m Trans and I Need a Job: 5 Things to Do (and 5 Things to Avoid).”
The unemployment rate for transgender people was 15 percent in 2015, according to the U.S. Transgender Survey. In comparison, the general population’s unemployment rate was 5 percent. Most states, including Ohio, do not have laws protecting trans people from employment #discrimination.
“This is an important event for us and for the community because it is such a need. There are not a lot of opportunities for the trans community, so we thought this was a good way to bring businesses together in one spot so we could organize around the needs of the community,” said Amy Delp, MetroHealth’s Executive Director of Population Health, Inclusion and Diversity.
Delp explained how the employers that attend learn about respecting trans people.
“First of all, the businesses that come have to participate in our orientation in the morning which gives them information about the trans community, how to have an interview with an individual that’s trans, which questions not to ask. We make the environment welcoming and more geared to the needs of the community.”
The list of participating vendors included:
#Human Rights Campaign, Cuyahoga County Public Library, CVS, General Electric, Veterans’ Administration, Care Alliance Health Care, Greenbrier/CHS-Corp, Progressive, Starbucks, Hilton, Eaton, Hyland, Key Bank, Cleveland MetroParks, Cleveland State University, PNC and Ohio Means Jobs.
MetroHealth’s Pride Clinic, a medical clinic focusing on #LGBTQ patients, celebrates their tenth anniversary next month. They were one of several LGBTQ organizations which tabled at the job fair.
Transgender Job Fair attendee Jermaine Sagoes said he doesn’t describe himself as trans, but his style is “androgynous.” He explained how presenting outside of the gender binary can lead to challenges in the workplace.
“For me, I do go with the ‘he’ pronouns, but I do like to keep elevated, like a platform heel. That’s just me. So, I think the bathroom is definitely an awkward moment. I’ve definitely found myself using the women’s bathroom, just to make it non-awkward or easier. I think that’s one of the biggest obstacles for the trans community is the gender binary bathroom. I think it should be universal, everywhere.” Said Sagoes.
Political restroom fights continue to impede trans people’s participation in public life, particularly for students and teachers in public schools. Nolan Klindworth holds a degree in Early Childhood Education but he said he would most like to work “behind the scenes” in advocacy for LGBTQ youth.
“A lot of people think you have to be the one up front, with the picket sign, marching with the megaphone. But there’s a whole thing where there’s stuff happening behind the scenes.” Said Klindworth.
Klindworth currently volunteers with GLSEN. He explained that he came to the Transgender Job Fair to see which employers are trans-friendly, since it can be hard to determine online.
“Just trying to see where I fit. With online searches, a lot of it is online, not really meeting people, so I think just trying to figure out what organizations seem okay. And it’s good now that I have a list, to figure out. You can read the job description but then you have to read the job’s mission and their equality stuff as well. It’s a lot of fine lines,” he said.
While many attendees recently left college, some built entire careers before transitioning and deciding they need a change. Tori White graduated from law school in 1991. She attended the job fair to explore new options.
“I’m currently employed in a retail environment. I’m here today because I’m trying to see where my future can take me. I’m amenable to a change. I practiced [law] for 23 years. I did enjoy it, I was very good at it. I don’t know if that’s what I want to continue to do,” she said.
Legally transitioning–correcting one’s legal name and gender marker–can create barriers in job searches and during background checks. In an Q&A session, White discussed how legal name changes affect professional certifications or licenses.
“If you’re a teacher, you’re going to have a teaching certificate or if you’re a realtor, you’re going to have a realtors’ license. Any of those professions that in your former life, you held some sort of a certification, it’s difficult because you have to have those two things match. For me, I’m an attorney and I couldn’t sign legal documents until I actually changed my legal name because that would have been a misrepresentation, I would be committing a fraud if I had signed my chosen name versus what my legal name was, so I had to be really careful. The judge was really nice, she said I could use my initials. But I waited, I didn’t want to sign any legal pleadings until I had my Supreme Court certification match my legal name.” She explained.
White added that job seekers should contact the credit bureaus to connect their names to their credit histories.
Another attendee asked about using one’s legal name on a resume and whether to bring it up in an interview.
“That’s one of the questions that there can’t be a real solid yes or no answer,” replied keynote speaker, Christine Howey. “You have to read the person you’re talking to and say, ‘Is this person struggling with my name in reference to my gender, or not?’ ‘Was it just mentioned once?’ You have to read the situation. I think always though, if you’re going to address it: quickly, straightforward and then move on. Don’t just say, ‘Yeah, I’m transgender,’ and let that hang. Always come in with something else behind it: ‘I’m transgender and I’ve never felt better. I am so capable right now. Let me tell you what I can do for this company because I know that you do x and y and I can do x and y like nobody else can.’ And this doesn’t matter if its a job as a clerk or a vice president. There’s job descriptions that they have and if you have those skills, you want to tell them. Always be straightforward but then come in with your message. Always come in with your message.”
An employment recruiter at Progressive insurance suggested that job seekers use their chosen names on resumes.
“I prefer that people put their chosen name on the resume and move forward. I’d rather know the identity that you’re wanting to be,” she said.
The Progressive recruiter also advised job seekers to discuss their legal name during the background check. She explained that she doesn’t see the details of background checks, she only sees whether or not the candidate passed.
The mother of a non-binary person asked about misgendering regarding they/them pronouns.
“A lot of HR people seem to stumble,” she said. “How would you handle that in a job situation?”
Howey admitted that she isn’t good with gender-neutral pronouns.
“I’m old, I’m 71. I have a hard time with getting these words out of my mouth because they’ve never been there before. I think you have to be patient with it. To me, that’s kind of like phase two of acceptance. Put that off. Don’t make that a condition of employment. Let it go and then when you get the job, say, ‘You know, I’d really like to talk to you about my pronouns, with the staff and let’s see if we can work this out.’ Don’t bring that up as a deal-breaker. ‘If you can’t get my pronouns right, I’m leaving this job interview.’ It can be viewed as a sign of disrespect but chances are, it probably isn’t. It’s just people just can’t quite get it through their heads yet. And I think they will but it will take some time.”
In her keynote speech, Howey mainly focused on the job interview, since “nobody ever hires anybody based on their resume. You have to go in.”
Howey said the challenge of job interviews for trans and gender non-conforming people is making sure the interviewer sees them as individuals with specific skills the employer wants. She repeatedly emphasized the importance of showing the interviewer how the job seeker can benefit the company.
She explained how to respond if the interviewer seems hesitant or judgmental.
“The secret is to always move the conversation back to what you can do for them,” she said. She compared this emphasis to how politicians respond to questions by pivoting to the topic they actually want to discuss.
“‘Senator So-And-So, what do you think about this bill?’ And he goes on the interview show thinking, ‘I don’t want to talk about that bill, I want to talk about this thing over here.’ And so he changes it. He says, ‘Well, that’s interesting, but the real thing is this issue.’ You change it. Keep moving it around to where you want the answer to be. You answer the question, don’t ignore the question. Answer it and move on to your strengths. Your strengths are always what you want to emphasize.”
Howey also stated how transitioning is beneficial, both for the job seeker and the employer.
“You’re becoming or you are who you were meant to be. That’s good for you. That’s good for an employer. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what you need to make sure they understand when you’re talking to them. That you’re in the best place you’ve ever been and you’re ready to provide them the benefits they’re looking for.”