I remember vividly a conversation I had with a longtime friend and mentor in the radio business. She had come out as transgender some 20 years ago, and when I shared with her that I was on a similar path she offered these words of encouragement and warning: “You work for probably the best company to try and pull this off, but if you do, you’ll be the first.”
She was referring to a transgender person holding down a regular full time air shift or holding the job of program director.
I didn’t make it; I was let go three months after beginning hormone treatment and literally the day before I had planned to come out. (I had written the letter and was prepared to present it when my plans were changed for me.)
Since my departure, I have found the job climate to be quite different. Before I transitioned, I was seldom out of work for more than a few weeks. Now, I can’t get a phone call returned.
A prominent consultant and program supplier told me that since I have transitioned, I’m considered “High Risk.”
I have a 33-year track record in the radio business that includes stops in Sacramento, Kansas City, Atlanta and nearly five years doing the morning show on The Buzz in Houston. In 2011 I came to Dallas.
I haven’t forgotten how to do what I do.
I point this out for two reasons.
One is to explain that I’m not having a difficult time breaking into a new career. I’ve been there and done that.
The other is that while I can’t speak with authority about other industries and their track record for hiring transgender people, I have some insights into radio.
On July 20, President Obama signed the Executive LGBT Non-Discrimination Order, which prevents government contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity and protects federal employees from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
That’s awesome! That’s groundbreaking! It’s a step in the right direction!
It’s also not enough.
As I alluded to, there isn’t a single transgender person employed as a program director or full time announcer (that I’m aware of) at a commercial radio station in America. There are more than 10,000 radio stations; you’d think there’d be one or two trans announcers or program directors.
There may be some in public radio or even on satellite. But there is certainly no consistent transgender voice on the radio.
LGBT protection in policy manuals is nice but if companies don’t hire anyone to protect, it doesn’t mean much, does it?
Last October, Vice President Joe Biden said, “Transgender discrimination is the civil rights issue of our time.” I can’t express how wonderful it was to hear those words coming from one so high up in the government.
Coming out at work is one of the major hurdles for anyone going through transition. It causes stress that can’t be overstated. There is so much fear — even for those working for accepting companies like AT&T — that we are a wreck for weeks before finally summoning the courage.
Protection is necessary. Transition is an inherently difficult and sometimes awkward process. There is the obvious — like how you present yourself to your co-workers and changing your name in all company records, including insurance. But there are other factors that can be just as significant, like scheduling electrolysis.
This requires you to grow your facial hair for three to four days and then spend several hours in the electrologist’s chair, followed by a few days of swelling and redness. This process is repeated every six to eight weeks for a year or more.
A company that has your back through this difficult process is worth its weight in gold. Imagine the kind of loyalty that would be created with that employee.
The percentage of transgender people living below the poverty line is enormous. A good first step in remedying the problem would be including a gender identity question on census forms.
Right now, the question isn’t asked, so we really don’t have access to consistent and accurate information. But we know it’s high.
In 2007 The Williams institute issued a report titled “Bias in the Workplace: Consistent Evidence of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination,” and the estimates in that report ranged as high as 64 percent of transgender people reporting earning less than $25,000 per year, with high rates of unemployment.
So hurray for government employees and those of the federal contractors. But make no mistake: protection is needed for the rest of us. I certainly don’t wish for an unfair advantage over anyone else, but a level playing field would be nice.
It’s time to pass ENDA without the religious exemption. It has cleared the Senate and I feel certain the president would sign it, but a stubborn Speaker of the House has refused to even permit a vote.
Come on Speaker Boehner, all workers deserve to be treated equally.
Leslie McMurray, a transgender woman, is a former radio DJ who lives and works in Dallas. Read more of her blogs at http://lesliemichelle44.wordpress.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 12, 2014.