Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Telling Your Story of Workplace Discrimination And Harassment

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | July 30, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: civil rights, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, workplace discrimination

At Netroots Nation, a bunch of us got together to talk about why ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, has fallen to the bottom of the barrel.workplace-bullying.jpg

One of the points we noticed is that the campaign to put soldier's stories of harassment in the military front and center seemed to be very effective in mobilizing resistance against the discriminatory Don't Ask Don't Tell policy.

We agreed that it was time to start doing the same for stories of workplace discrimination and harassment.

Our political leaders get that it's wrong and something needs to be done about it, but in the face of Republican resistance, they've pretty much folded their hand.

I'd like to put your story of workplace harassment here on Bilerico. It doesn't have to be the most horrific story ever, but I think people need to start hearing about the day-to-day worries of people who have had to put up with harassment or being fired or not getting hired because of sexual orientation or gender expression.

Send me your story at [email protected], and I'll put it up here.

United ENDA is also conducting a "Tell Your Story" campaign to get personal stories out to the media. Please fill out their survey.

One such story after the jump.

This story comes from the archives at my personal blog, Transgender Workplace Diversity. It is No. 3 in a series of stories I posted with permission back in the summer of 2006. This is why we need the Employment Non-Discrimination Act now.

I was hired at a branch location of a Western university in a dual capacity. I have both an MLS and MBA (as well as other advanced degrees), and was placed as the Library Director of the branch library, and assigned a teaching load of 9 hours in the business department. After I had been successfully employed at the university for almost three years, I decided to begin the process of transitioning from male to female.

The administration was very accommodating, both in supportive words and in providing generous leave, which made my transition very easy. I spoke with the Campus Director, my Library Director, and the Vice President of Academic Affairs. All three were helpful, and promised to support me and help in creating a smooth transition. I was pleased, but not surprised, to find that this historically Black university understood issues of diversity. With their encouragement, I took an extended vacation over the Christmas holiday to finalize my transition and heal after surgery before returning to work. When I returned, I conducted myself as the woman I now was, professionally and properly dressed at all times, and afforded myself of the bathroom of my proper gender. Things went extremely well, and I felt that success in both my professional life and my personal life.

So far, so good. However, despite the very pleasant, accommodating words I had heard from the administration, it all went downhill very fast. When a challenge appeared, the nice words were not backed up by real actions. When a problem occurred, my support network evaporated.

Here's how it happened. I went to a professional conference in February. When I returned, I was stunned to learn that a student had circulated a hate-filled petition calling for my removal from campus, and had posted offensive flyers around the campus. Various reasons were cited, but all were related to my transgender identity. The petition received over 100 signatures. I spoke with the Campus Director, and asked for his assistance in removing the offensive flyers. I was stunned to hear him say that the student had a right to freedom of speech, and that he could do nothing. In fact, when other students also complained about these hateful flyers, he went so far as to support the right of the students to pass out the flyers.

The very next day, the Campus Director issued a rule that all faculty and staff must use the bathrooms in the break room, at the other end of the building, and not the student bathrooms across the hall from the library. Surprised by this, I noticed that none of the other faculty were adhering to this policy. When I mentioned this to the Director, he told me in that he could not control the actions of all faculty and staff, but that I would adhere to the policy or be disciplined. I was flabbergasted. I showed him my paperwork, including letters from my surgeon and amended birth certificate. He disregarded them, telling me that I must do as he said.

The petition-circulating student, encouraged by the administration's open failure to support me, circulated another petition, this one stating that God wished me dead, and expressing the hope that something to this effect should happen. I spoke to several high level administrators, who I was sure would see reason at this point. Instead, they told me my concerns were unwarranted, and to stop causing drama. (Unfortunately, violence against trans people is all too common.) Then, suddenly and surprisingly, my teaching schedule for the summer was changed to the late-night 7:30-10 pm time slot. This meant I would be the last instructor to leave the building, going out into an empty parking lot in a dangerous section of the city.

At this point, I realized it was time to throw in the towel. Management's "support" evaporated in the face of a simple challenge, leaving me alone in an unsafe situation. I managed to secure an interview for a better position elsewhere (though it was about 1000 miles away), and was offered the position. Before the summer session began, I accepted a position as Branch Head of the Architecture Library at a major university on the East Coast. It was quite a hardship, but what could I do? Had the administrators who were charged with my welfare stood up and supported me in the face of mean-spirited prejudice, I think I would have been able to stay and to prosper. When they failed to take decisive action, I was forced to choose between my safety, emotional and physical, and my job.

Do you have a story of workplace harassment related to sexual orientation or gender expression? Email me at [email protected] and I'll put it up here.

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I only have one terrible story, but it wouldn't be remedied by ENDA anyway b/c it was contract work. Other than that, it's the usual "I'll just drop pronouns and keep quiet about my weekend in order to not rock the boat."

Which I suppose is the same for DADT - they look for horror stories, but the biggest impact is probably just the constant silence.

I'm definitely being silent right now, and like you ENDA wouldn't help me. For one, I'm in a state that does have protections, for two, I'm a contract worker. I have a temp job as a QA technician and I am so not sharing that my girlfriend is transsexual (I may realize that the relationship between me and her is hetero, but that doesn't mean it will be interpreted that way). I'm able to be quiet for a short time and get good references. Even if I hate doing it, I just can't take the risk.

Andrew Belonsky Andrew Belonsky | July 31, 2010 11:39 AM

This is great, Jillian! I agree that we need to put a face to our "issues," especially when they're trans-related.

Angela Brightfeather | July 31, 2010 10:32 PM

if I wrote down ev ery story about Trans people being fired that I have heard over the last 40 years, then I could hand you a series of books that could only be compared to the a decent set of encylopedias. But I didn't. The reason why is because many of the stories come from people who do not really want to talk about them that much or see them in print. They want to forget them. Most of them involve the act of being discriminated against openly and without shame on the part of employers who freak out when they are told that the employee they have trusted for ten years is going to transition. They strike out in anger and disgust and find some way to fire that Trans employee with as much shame as can be heaped upon them.

It hurts. It really hurts to feel that you are part of something and then have it cut from your life. To have contributed for years and then find that it meant absolutely nothing. To tell the story hurts every time someone has to tell it. it reaches down inside the personb and pulls their guts out; their heart begins to pound again and their blood pressure rises to think that they are now considered less than ten minutes before they came out. It stays with a person all their life and the only thing that makes it better is to find a way to put it behind you, success being the best revenge for such cruelty and discimination.

Hardly anyone who has had it happen to them, has the strength of a person like Diane Shroer and far less than one percent of them even bother to fight the sentence of a discriminating employer.

Good luck Jillian. I hope that you find many, many volunteers to tell their story. I know that far more will not. But with or without the stories, we need to continue to fight for ENDA.