Report: Even with protections, transgenders in California
by Seth Hemmelgarn
More than five years since state legislation to ensure employment and housing protections for transgender people went into effect, many still face discrimination, according to a recently released report.
According to "The State of Transgender California Report," 67 percent of the people who responded to a 2008 survey said they had experienced workplace harassment or discrimination directly related to their gender identity. Only 15 percent of those respondents had filed a complaint, according to the report.
"We were surprised that the discrimination rates continue to be so high and that reporting rates are so low, given that California has had state employment protections for five years," said Masen Davis, executive director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, which prepared the report.
TLC will hold its seventh anniversary benefit and awards ceremony Thursday, November 5 at the Endup. Chaz Bono, who announced his gender transition earlier this year, will be a special guest at the VIP reception. It will be one of Bono's first public appearances since his transition.
In 2003, then-Governor Gray Davis (D) signed Assembly Bill 196, authored by then-Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). The bill added gender identity and expression to the characteristics already protected under the state's Fair Employment and Housing Act. The law went into effect January 1, 2004.
Since then, TLC's Davis said, "many people have taken advantage of the fact that we have state non-discrimination protections" but "it's also clear we need to increase awareness of these rights and ensure people realize that they can make complaints without losing their jobs."
Leno, now a state senator, said, "As depressing as the results of the report are, I don't know that they take anyone by surprise. We know that because of discrimination against our transgender brothers and sisters, there is much greater difficulty for them to access employment, housing, education and health care."
"Unfortunately, a law can't change the world," he added.
However, Leno said that among other ideas, he thinks the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce "would find a wealth of talent – untapped talent – in the TG community."
In addition to facing high levels of workplace discrimination, 19 percent of those surveyed indicated that they had faced housing discrimination because of their gender identity or presentation.
The survey also found that respondents were twice as likely to live under the $10,400 poverty line compared with the general population.
The California transgender survey was initially distributed at the March 2008 Transgender Leadership Summit and was also distributed in English and Spanish via electronic and print copies to social service agencies and other groups. It did not ask people when they had experienced the employment discrimination or harassment.
The survey yielded a total of 646 respondents over 18 who identified as transgender or currently had a gender identity "and/or presentation that is different from their assigned sex at birth."
Fifty-eight percent of the respondents were transgender women, while 42 percent were transgender men.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a series of proposals to ensure that the department's core housing programs are open to all, regardless of sexual orientation
In addition, HUD will commission the first-ever national study of discrimination against members of the LGBT community in the rental and sale of housing.
Karin Fresnel, who lives in Eureka – about 270 miles north of San Francisco – said discrimination is something with which she is familiar.
Fresnel, 52, transitioned in 2005 when she was working as a geologist at a private consulting firm.
She said that her immediate supervisor took jobs and projects away from her, misused pronouns and proper names, and told her that people didn't want to work with her because she was transgender. Fresnel said that she later found out clients had "no idea" she was transgender.
After her gender reassignment surgery, Fresnel took six weeks off. She said that she returned to find that she had been demoted as branch manager and in 2007, after being told her office was to be closed, the firm didn't offer her another position. She later found out that the office was kept open for another two years, and other people had been hired.
The Transgender Law Center assisted Fresnel during her ordeal. Fresnel, who is on the TLC's leadership council, said she didn't sue her consulting firm, which she declined to name, because her case was "not the strongest" and she worried that suing would damage her reputation in the geologist community.
She eventually found another job working as a geologist, and said her new employer is "very good," but she said she's making 45 percent less than her previous salary.
However, she said, "My experiences at my former place of employment led me to being an activist." Among other things, Fresnel has established a peer support group.
First of its kind
According to the report, this was the first statewide survey documenting the financial, employment, health, and housing experiences of transgender Californians.
Davis said that survey responses came from 33 of the state's 58 counties. However, 72 percent of the respondents were residents of San Francisco, Alameda, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties. Sixty-three percent of respondents were white.
He said that respondents were "disproportionately urban and disproportionately white."
"We know we're likely to get people with higher levels of education and resources than those who didn't fill out the survey," said Davis.
However, he said, "Even with a relatively privileged group of respondents, we still found incredibly high rates of poverty and unemployment," said Davis. "It's our sense looking at who answered the survey that this is about as good as it gets for many transgender people..."
For a copy of the report, go to www.transgenderlawcenter.org. Tickets to TLC's anniversary party range from $50-$100, sliding scale. The event begins at 7 p.m. at the Endup, 401 6th Street. Tickets to the 6 p.m. VIP reception are $150.