Lack of Employment Protections Drive Transgender Worker’s Economic Uncertainty September 6, 2016

kaden pumpkinKaden Michael knew from a young age that there was something different about him. When he was 15 years old, he learned what it means to be transgender—and was finally able to put language to what he was feeling inside. After coming to terms with his gender identity, Kaden’s whole world opened up. With support from his family, he started living full time as the man he had always known himself to be. He got married, went to school, started a family, and was truly happy for the first times in his life.

Then, one day, his life was thrown into a tailspin. Someone at the hotel where Kaden worked heard rumors that he was transgender and confronted him in front of other coworkers, demanding Kaden confirm or deny the rumors.

Mortified, Kaden took the issue to the hotel management. But none of his coworkers were ever disciplined, and they continued to harass him about his gender identity to the point where he felt afraid walking into work every day.

“There was a handful of people I genuinely feared—prior to them even knowing I’m transgender—so I definitely had the intensity of my fear increased 10-fold, knowing that they knew that I wasn’t like them.”

Kaden was especially frightened of being caught alone with these coworkers, especially in the restroom.

“At that point I had ‘socially transitioned,’ and I used the men’s restroom, so I became very paranoid that if someone caught me in the men’s room and they had heard the rumors, something would happen.”

During all of this there was one person Kaden worked with who supported him. He says she advocated strongly on his behalf, and did what she could to convince management to address the ongoing workplace harassment Kaden was experiencing. But ultimately she lost her job, and Kaden quit soon thereafter.

kaden and gram

Both he and his coworker then got jobs at another hotel, and although she was the only one who knew about his transgender status, more rumors started to circulate—this time because of posts his coworkers had seen on Facebook. Soon after the rumors started, Kaden had his hours severely cut, to the point where he was unable to support his family. He’s unsure if it was because he is transgender, but thinks that played a role.

Kaden is working at a warehouse now, and things are going OK. But he’s always afraid that one day he’ll walk into work only to learn that the rumors and verbal abuse have started again. And there’s nothing he can do about it.

“It’s really hard knowing that any moment, I could be pulled into an office and told I don’t have a job anymore, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.”

Because New Hampshire has no explicit laws protecting from discrimination on the basis of gender identity, transgender people like Kaden have few options in terms of recourse when they experience discrimination at work, in housing, or at public places like restaurants, hospitals, or government buildings.

kaden and b parkThis way of living is unsustainable, Kaden says. Job insecurity has taken a toll on him and his family—including his 8-year-old son—but the burden also stifles New Hampshire’s economy as a whole.

“When we don’t have protection in employment, and we’re able to be fired and removed from positions because of how we identify, it’s not only damaging to us and our families, it’s really damaging to the entire community.”

Kaden says that when people who are highly qualified and want to work can be dismissed from their jobs because of their gender identity, that puts a strain on public unemployment programs that, in today’s economy, are already struggling.

“You’re asking trans people to go and sit on an unemployment line with hundreds of other people who aren’t trans and need jobs, too. You’re asking more people to seek assistance that we’re already tight on. We want to work. We want to live our lives just like everyone else.”