Article Title:Better work stories needed
Category:True Stories
Author or Credit:Jacqui Stanford
Published on:4th May 2013 - 11:01 am
Published by:GayNZ.com
Internet Archive link:https://web.archive.org/web/20170423044601/http://www.gaynz.com/articles/publish/36/article_13266.php
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Story ID:13266
Text:Being told not to wear nail polish, ordered to use the disabled toilet, or labelled a "the faggot in a dress" are just some of the experiences trans workers are facing in New Zealand - that's if they even get considered for a job in the first place. In the Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Discrimination Experienced by Transgender People in 2008, the majority of submissions that described some form of discrimination focused on the area of employment. That's backed up by revelations of a disgraceful underbelly of bigotry and transphobia in offices and lunch rooms across the country - stories we didn't even have to look far to find. They came in left right and centre. The good news is there are some employers who deserve almighty high-fives for leading the way. Our readers share their stories. Getting a job in the first place: Legally, you can't refuse to hire someone based on their gender, apart from in a few rare situations where you actually need to be a certain gender for the role. However, the Department of Labour makes it clear a person's gender identity and expression is not a lifestyle choice, but is simply a part of who someone is. "A trans person is not being deceptive or dishonest if they do not disclose their gender identity," it says in its guide Transgender People at Work. "They are simply refraining from sharing very personal information, often because of fear that they will be discriminated against." It states an employer cannot refuse to hire a trans person just because "they won't fit in" or unilaterally move them away from frontline work just because they are trans. This may provide grounds for a complaint of discrimination on the basis of sex under the Human Rights Act or, in the case of an employee, a personal grievance under the Employment Relations Act. And yet, while in most cases it's impossible to prove, we know plenty of trans people are finding it hard to get jobs. "I have had good friends involved in employing employees, who have told me to my face they wouldn't give me a job," a transsexual woman shares. "They are fine with me socially, one on one, and the reality is they are worried how their customers would take me and so go for the option where that doesn't need to be given consideration." Jae* agrees that for gender variant and trans people, the issues and barriers faced in employment start at the application process: "names and gender might not match birth certificates, pre-transition bodies and having to come out right at the interview so the person uses the right pronouns/knows you aren't trying to commit fraud if your perceived gender and chosen name seem to conflict gender wise," Jae says people have feelings of hopelessness surrounding having to even just face the interview. "Another huge issue is previous life when it comes to work references/portfolio work under other names. Wanting to use that great reference but to use then requires outing yourself. A friend of mine is a recent journo grad and lives pretty stealth and is struggling to decide if he uses all the work published under his old name in his portfolio." Jae adds: "We wear our gender and gender expression on the outside! And this seems to invite workplace prejudice from the outset. Having to be so out invites strangers into your private business." Transitioning on the job: Surely transitioning is enough of a trying process to go through without getting harassed, bullied and gossiped about at work. The worst account we've had is from Jenny* who recalls: "In the role I transitioned in, at a government department, I was regularly called 'he', 'him', 'sir', 'gentleman' and 'son' - despite asking people not to. "I was also referred to as 'the faggot in a dress', and numerous other unsavoury titles." After her surgery Jenny was required to dilate her vagina three times daily, which meant she needed to do so at work. "The only facility offered to me was a small storage room with a stretcher bed, no running water and no lock on the door. The room was also used by people to store their dirty gym equipment, which is obviously not a hygienic environment for the care of a post-surgical wound site!" After several years of abuse Jenny was made redundant when she asked for something to be done about the discrimination. "In another role at a different workplace, a woman in my team was made aware by an outside party that I was transgender and referred to me as 'he' and 'him' to clients on the phone. "I raised this with management and in a mediation meeting with her, she referred to me as male in front of myself and my manager. "She also bullied me constantly and actively excluded me from team activities and conversations. The bullying and harassment got so bad that I was crying at my desk daily and crying with relief when I got home." Jenny eventually discovered that on the first day she'd met her new colleague, she'd stated in a group email to other workers: "Whenever I look at 'him' I want to puke". "Management had been made aware of this and had taken no action to discipline her. Rather than continue to subject myself to that environment any longer, I resigned." What SHOULD happen, according to the Department of Labour, is that a chat with your boss should knock any of the above on the head. It says you should take a friend or union delegate along to the meeting, identify what steps you need to take, who needs to know what, and a timeline, such as: when the employee would like to be: ›› known by their new name; ›› referred to by new pronouns; ›› able to adopt a workplace dress code matching their gender identity; ›› able to use facilities such as restrooms and changing rooms matching their gender identity; and ›› able to take time off work for medical treatment relating to their transition, if necessary. "It is important that the employer sets a good example to other employees and is supportive and reassuring during the employee's transition," the DOL says. "This will help the employee to carry on with their job as usual." Thankfully, Jenny says, she is now in a workplace where few people know her history, "so it isn't an issue," she says. "And the few that do know are good people". Plain ugly old transphobia: Sometimes it can be the simplest things to get right which can cut the most deeply. A transgender GayNZ.com reader shares: "I remember vividly the night I went to a work dinner and had to endure the guys talking about who they thought was trans at work. I had to go to the bathroom to avoid crying at the table." "I had my work tell me I couldn't use the ladies and had to use the disabled," truckie Rebecca* shares. "I had been employed there for about six months and a new office block and staff rooms had been built and that was when I was told I couldn't use the ladies." When she said she wanted it in writing, as she was going to the Human Rights Commission, a meeting was held. "I got them the relevant information and the next day did they back down in a hurry but no appolgies." For the record, workers should be given the right to use the toilet that matches their gender indentity. "While a unisex toilet is a positive way to ensure facilities are inclusive (and may be more comfortable for a trans person early in their transition), a trans employee should not be excluded from using the appropriate single sex toilet," the DOL states. Rebecca had to threaten another employer with the Human Rights Commission when she was told not to wear nail polish. At another job, where she'd worked for about four year, she had two months off after being knocked out. "When it was time to return there was a huge argument ... the trans bit never came out, but we both knew what it was all over." She went to employment mediation for the second time in her career, and an employer had to 'put hand in pocket' for the second time in her career. "Where I am now seems to be ok but I have to be twice as good too be half as good as a guy," Rebecca says. The positives … Change is happening, and it's coming from all quarters - trans people bravely standing up, other colleagues with backbones, and employers who have a clue. Colleagues fighting for you: "The industry I work in has surprised me - being in the mining and construction industry and in a very visible nationwide role for over five years, I expected to have more transphobia to deal with," a Heather* shares. "The only issue I had was one manager who 'figured it out' before I officially came out (wasn't really a secret - I've been pretty open about being trans) and went around telling everyone who would listen complete with transphobic jokes. "Well, kudos to the five employees from three different locations in the country who not only found it pretty distasteful, but also all individually complained to HR. He got a bollocking - the first I knew about it all was when he was made to apologise to me! "I still wonder what ratio of people have accepted me vs tolerate me - it's hard to tell the difference, but either way little has changed with the exception of the obvious sexism directed at me. In that regard, I'm now treated like every other woman in the company, but that's another battle!" Fighting for change yourself: Transphobia is nothing new to Roxanne Henare, who recalls applying for a position at a top hotel in 1988, where she was told ‘transvestites' were not welcome to apply due the fact that they were ‘predominantly sex workers'. Over her years she's also spent time in a men's prison, where she was abused. She's also had things thrown at her, been denied entry to nightclubs and even disallowed from buying wigs at a Ponsonby store! But things have changed drastically in her world, thanks in part to the work she has put in. Henare now works with Sexual Health at the Auckland District Health Board, where she has influenced the implementation of the Sexual Health Trans Gender Clinic. It's been running within the department for six years, and is the only one of its kind within the five DHBs nationally. She also networks with other trans people within all sectors of the ADHB. "I work as a clinic schedulers/office admin person so I'm able to ensure that our TG/TS patients have a ‘kind face' to greet them when they arrive," she says, explaining some are terribly nervous on how they are going to be judged when they arrive. Employers can get it right too: When Lexie Matheson came out she was working as a Business Manager at the University of Auckland. "My work environment was brilliant and accepted me immediately - maybe because almost everyone was gay anyway. "When the senior management found out I was asked to join the Diversity Board which existed to ensure that minorities (staff and students) were appropriately acknowledged and supported. I was surprised - and touched." Matheson moved on to AUT and was already out, which she identified at her interview, and there was no real issue. "On my first day I was seen by my direct manager standing by the staff toilets looking confused. She tapped me on the shoulder, pointed to the women's bathroom and said 'you use that one'." Matheson says AUT has a strong equity programme primarily for Maori and Pasifika students but for other ethnic and cultural minorities as well. "I regularly remind staff at meetings that 'culture' isn't always about ethnicity but that, if we're looking to support at risk students we should look at the stats around the LGBTTI 'culture'. I always receive a good hearing and often receive visits from staff asking advice about a particular student especially if the student seems fall into the gender questioning category. "I am then able to put a plan in place for that student - if they want it - that involves access to skilled services that exist within the university and outside (Rainbow Youth etc). While this isn't a formal process I'm always heartened that colleagues see me as a resource that they can turn to when these situations arise - and they do, more often than might be expected." Matheson ‘outs' herself at orientation every semester and has never once been misgendered by a student. She's taught thousands in her seven years at AUT. You have rights, and you're not alone  As mentioned throughout this piece, the Department of Labour has an excellent guide on the rights of trans workers, which also has clear advice for employers. Read it here A Crown Law opinion released in 2006 says trans workers are protected under the Human Rights Act from discrimination on the grounds of gender identity. The push for much more specific protection continues. There is plenty of support out there. Don't be afraid to speak up.     Jacqui Stanford - 4th May 2013
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