Gerri worked for a major tech company for 31 years. Then one day—shortly after she began transitioning to live full time as the woman she is—she was fired.
“There was a big layoff and I was part of the first group of people to be let go,” Gerri told us. “And they hired someone into my group the same weekend I left.”
Though Gerri was let go during a company-wide downsizing, given her stellar performance record, she suspects she was terminated because of her gender identity.
“I was a very valuable employee. I had been laid off for one year back in the ‘90s. But they hired me back after 10 months because I was such a valuable employee,” she said.
“The problem is this: I was in a customer facing position. That’s what got me in trouble,” she said. “As I was transitioning, they didn’t want me in front of customers anymore.”
Gerri started working for this company in the 1970s. And at the time, she was still living in the closet, as a man. She had grown up in a strict Catholic family long before there was any public awareness about transgender people. And so she kept her gender identity a secret for the first 47 years of her life.
“I knew I was different as a teenager back in the 1960s,” Gerri said. “But I couldn’t tell anybody about what was going on because I considered myself a freak. I didn’t know anyone like me. There was nothing in the press; you couldn’t find anything in the library. So growing up in a Catholic family I thought, ‘Oh my god I can’t tell anybody about this.’”
Eventually, Gerri started presenting as the woman she’s known herself to be for most of her life. But at first, it was a slow process.
She was still known as a man at work, at home, and in many areas of her life. But when she traveled for work to places where people were meeting her for the first time, she would present as the woman she is.
On one business trip, a colleague saw her out in public and complained to the company. After that incident, she got written up for being inappropriately dressed for business.
The thing is, there were no company policies about dress code—none whatsoever.
“There was nothing published, no policy for me to call on to defend myself,” Gerri recalled. “So I was talking to my supervisor and his manager who basically told me, ‘Well, you’re on probation for a year and if you decide somewhere along the way that you’re going to be living full time as a woman, then let us know and we’ll go from there.’”
Even though Gerri was disappointed at how the incident was handled, she was hopeful to learn that the company was open to bringing her back once she transitioned fully.
When she ultimately did start taking hormones and living full-time as herself, Gerri wrote the company to let them know about her transition and to discuss her contract with human resource.
Two months later, she was fired.
“All the people making decisions about the layoffs were all the same people who wrote me up the year before. So I know it was in the back of their mind,” Gerri said.
Ultimately, Gerri didn’t fight the termination because the company said they’d revoke her 6-month severance package if she did. At the time, jobs in the tech sector—which was going through an economic downturn—were highly competitive, and Gerri was responsible for payments on two mortgages.
In short, she simply couldn’t afford to throw away her severance package on a costly discrimination lawsuit.
More importantly, because there are no explicit protections for transgender Granite Staters under state law, she wouldn’t have had much of a case.
“The frustration was that there was no way to fight it. In my situation, I couldn’t rely on the law. From a business standpoint, nothing was clear as relates to a transgender person. There were no guidelines on what does the company do if you try to transition. There was nothing I could call on.”
When we asked Gerri if it was all worth it, she told us defiantly: Yes.
Before her transition, Gerri said she was depressed and suicidal. And even though her transition cost her a high-paying job, ultimately happiness and peace are priceless.
She couldn’t find another job in corporate America. She worked for several years as a carpenter, and built a successful business—but that crumbled after the great recession of 2008. She went back to school to learn how to drive big rigs. Gerri found a job working for a large trucking company. She worked for a company that has trans-inclusive policies and was supportive of her gender identity.
Gerri is well loved by her family and church members, and she has an active social life as an advocate for New Hampshire’s LGBT community.
Ultimately, no one should ever have to face the type workplace discrimination and job insecurity that Gerri did just because of who they are. Even though many major businesses have taken a lead on LGBT-inclusion, one-off company policies do not suffice to provide comprehensive and uniform protections to all.
In order to ensure transgender Granite Staters are fairly and equally protected from the type of discrimination that Gerri faced, New Hampshire must take steps to add ‘gender identity’ to the list of protected classes under the state Law Against Discrimination.