Jameka Evans lost her job for being queer and refusing to conform to gender norms in 2015. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear her case in December 2017.
Evans, like hundreds of thousands of queer and trans people in the U.S., is not protected under federal anti-discrimination laws, leaving her vulnerable to workplace and hiring discrimination.
Graduation is around the corner, and the job market extends beyond “liberal” California. Those of us in the LGBTQIA+ community face added decisions regarding relocation, entering the workforce and being open about our identities.
I’ve been job hunting these last few months, and found myself immediately pushing applications to the side that could relocate me to a red state. I don’t want the anxiety of hiding my identity at work or in my community out of fear for my safety.
One of three openly queer professors in the school of Jack Baskin Engineering, Herbie Lee, vice provost of academic affairs, said it is important to think about how different life is outside of specific areas in California when entering a new workplace or living space. Lee was a post-doctorate at Duke University in North Carolina over 15 years ago, when Duke ranked one of the least LGBTQIA+ friendly campuses in the nation.
“One big change can be if you leave here and you move somewhere else it is very different,” Lee said. “If [California] is all you know, it will be a big culture shock.”
In 28 states across the U.S., a queer person can lose their job for being open about their identity in the workplace, and 30 states don’t protect transgender people from workplace and hiring discrimination. The institutionalized hiring and workplace discrimination across over half of the country prohibits queer and trans people from the privilege of accepting a job they are qualified for, in any place or for any company.
Satveer Kler, a graduating senior and Lionel Cantú Queer Center LGBTQ+ peer education program intern, took their identity into consideration when deciding a career, relocation and graduate school. Kler is debating between entering the workforce in the Bay Area, or entering social work school at Hunter College in New York City.
“With the whole conservative rhetoric around ‘these are states’ issues [and] ‘states should have the freedom of religion or freedom of choice to hire who they want to hire.’ [These concepts] are being exacerbated under the guise of states’ rights and discriminatory hiring practices are coming a lot more to the forefront,” Kler said.
Being open about our identities in the workplace and our communities should be a basic human right, not a decision left up to the states. State and federal sanctioned discrimination limits the freedom of entering the job market to specific pockets of the world that are established as LGBTQIA+ friendly, like big cities in California or New York.
“It’s not like places like California or New York don’t have their own problems,” Kler said, “but the environment is different from places in the Midwest, given that it might be harder to find pockets of community.”
Fifteen to 43 percent of queer and transgender people in the U.S. report experiencing some form of workplace discrimination, according to the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy.
The lack of legal protection preventing workplace discrimination for LGBTQIA+ people not only perpetuates institutional hate but contributes to the insidious rates of queer and transgender houselessness. LGBTQIA+ youth are 120 percent more likely to experience housing insecurity than their non-LGBTQIA+ peers, according to the True Colors Fund.
On a positive note, openness in the workplace is improving overall. Eighty-two percent of the Fortune 500 companies in 2017 have non-discrimination policies that include gender identity, compared to 3 percent in 2002.
Sami Chen actually had a more positive experience in graduate school at Stanford with embracing her queerness and feeling included in local queer communities, than as a UCSC undergraduate. During her time at UCSC, she felt alienated from the queer community based on societal perceptions of what a queer person looks like, particularly in STEM.
“At Santa Cruz, I didn’t really connect with the queer community because I wasn’t sure if I was enough, if I was queer enough,” Chen said.
Herbie Lee and Chen both agreed society as a whole is changing. Even so, not all queer and trans people find community and safety so easily, even on college campuses.
Dr. Z Nicolazzo, who researches with trans communities as an assistant professor at Northern Illinois University, found trans oppression on college campuses not only negatively affects the mental health of trans students but contributes negatively to their academic standing. And in the workforce, transgender unemployment rate is three times higher than the national average.
Herbie Lee also said he was not open when he was a post-doctorate at Duke University in North Carolina. Southern states generally perpetuate anti-LGBTQIA+ culture. I have family in the deep south of the U.S., and it is a reality that I don’t feel safe being myself there.
From primary education to college graduates entering the workforce, queer and trans people have to think about the space we feel safe entering as our true queer selves.
Even with barriers to relocation and entering the workforce, it is important we are open with our identities. By consciously deciding to be visible, we can make change as a community, and eventually as a society.
Georgia, who identifies as pansexual and demiromantic, is a fifth year graduating with a double major in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology and Psychology. She is currently City on a Hill’s features editor and plans to pursue a career in media. This column is the first of a series on queerness, with the purpose of bringing forward voices of the LGBTQIA+ community.