Transgender Job Seekers

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A recent report by Make the Road NY found high rates of discrimination against transgendered individuals. Pauline Park, chair and co-founder of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA), and Kendall Thomas, Nash Professor of Law and director of the Center for the Study of Law and Culture at Columbia University School of Law, discuss the state of discrimination against transgender job seekers.


Pauline Park and Kendall Thomas

Comments [42]

Kyle from New Hampshire

Just listened to the show. I think I would have to say on the topic of parents/children and transgender that people should recognize it and make an effort to reach a level of understanding while educating themselves so that they can incorporate a strategy that fits with their style of parenting when explaining the topic of transgender to their children.

A major problem that has existed for years, and sadly will more than likely continue to exist for generations to come is that people fear or would rather avoid the topics they do not understand. I can understand this because I feel it is human nature to avoid the things you don't understand as I'm sure we all have done in our lives, starting in grade school with perhaps a topic that you just were not grabbing the concept on.

The difference however, I believe comes with maturity and the responsibility as an adult to lead by example and saying "it's okay to explore something you don't understand and ask questions from the one's that do". ... See More

If you want to protect children, protect them from themselves by properly educating them and allowing them to grow as an individuals. Teach them in love before they adopt hate, discrimination and ignorance.

Apr. 01 2010 06:43 PM
Pamela from California

I am a transgendered person. I am post-op male-to-female. I live full time as a female. I rarely wear a dress or skirt. I wear minimal makeup. But I do wear typical female clothing.
So as I read these comments I should wear male clothing to work because I was mis-gendered at birth as a male. And I never chose to be trans, I have known as long as I can remember that I was female not male. So a lot of you are saying that by living my life as my true gender I should accept being discriminated against for employment. So how do you suggest I support myself?

Apr. 01 2010 04:11 PM
Pauline Park from Queens

Sanny, to allow non-transgendered people to express their gender identity through clothing & accessories -- as they always are allowed -- but to prohibit transgendered people from expressing their gender identity through clothing & accessories is to treat the two groups of people differently simply because of their gender identity, which is the very definition of discrimination.

And it is employment more than perhaps any other area of life where protection from discrimination is crucial, for obvious reasons. How rational would it be to protect people from discrimination based on religion in every area except employment? Why exempt employment from any discrimination law?

There is in fact no rational objection to laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or expression, any more than there is a rational objection to laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, or disability, or any of the other myriad categories in NYC human rights law, in employment or in any other area of life.

Mar. 31 2010 03:23 PM
Sanny from Brooklyn


You are either reading too quickly or are being intentionally obtuse. I will say for the umpteenth time:

"Your objection to the NYC transgender rights law seems to be based on the contention that transgender identity is a choice"

I did *not* say that. I don't know that transgender identity is a choice. Perhaps it is or is not; I don't know and it has no bearing on my end of the discussion. I know that EXPRESSION OF transgender identity, insofar as we are discussing matters of choosing clothes and accessories is a choice. Likewise, it is not a choice to be born to a Jewish mother. It is a choice to wear a yarmulke. It is not a choice to be born with curly hair. It is a choice to wear it unrestrained. It is not a choice to have long legs. It is a choice to display them in a short skirt. We all mask or express different parts of our inherent or chosen identity as the situation requires it. What I am suggesting is that if transgender individuals want to express their gender non-conformity, they have every legal right to do so outside of the workplace, just like someone with minority political opinions or other non-conformist outlooks, but that there is no reason that when we can all be required to wear uniforms or professional dress, people should be allowed to wear trangressive dress simply because they feel really, really compelled to do it.

Mar. 31 2010 01:51 PM
Sanny from Brooklyn

Now as to the rest of your argument, "The assumption implicit in Sanny's comments, for example, is that the Constitution and statute law offer protections based only on immutable characteristics, but this is not true at all." No, I'm not arguming that the Constitution only protects immutable characteristics. What I am arguing against is the endless comparison of gender expression to immutable characteristics in the conversation that Brian moderated. If you want to compare gender expression to religious affiliation, then please feel free to do so. I think it is a valid question as to whether you can compare someone's desire to wear a dress, wig and lipstick to someone's desire to worship a monotheistic God or a tree or a pantheon of gods. Those are both choices and maybe they should be protected as such but that's a different debate than the one that is typically had about transgender performance.

You say personal expression is protected by the Constitution. Indeed it is, but laws have long recognized the right of employers to limit personal expression in the workplace. You have every right to say, "Bush is a Fascist." And your boss has every right, in a right to work state, to fire you for it. Likewise, I think an employer should have the right to fire someone who is male and who normally presents as a man for showing up to work in a costume of women's clothing.

You say, "And as others have pointed out, transgender identity is not a 'lifestyle' in any meaningful sense of the word. Well, amongst others, Renee Reyes and the people at would disagree with you so maybe you should speak only for yourself, unless you have an official capacity as spokesperson for the entire 'T' community.

Mar. 31 2010 01:41 PM
Pauline Park from Queens

Sanny, the point that I made -- that you did not respond to -- is that your objection to the NYC transgender rights law seems to be based on the contention that transgender identity is a choice and the assumption that the law prohibits or should prohibit discrimination based only on immutable characteristics. As I've indicated, federal, state and local laws all follow the Constitution & the Bill of Rights in prohibiting discrimination based precisely on matters of choice & personal expression; to eliminate those protections would mean, for example, to permit discrimination based on religion as well as speech and assembly, something that no individual or organization I'm aware of would advocate.

Mar. 31 2010 01:40 PM
Sanny from Brooklyn

Pauline Park, I'm not debating the existence of the transgender rights law, I'm debating the rationality of the law. Yes, there is such a law. Noted and noted and noted.

Mar. 31 2010 01:29 PM
Pauline Park from Queens

There's a real misapprehension running through many of these comments about choice. 'Choice' is irrelevant to the question at hand. The assumption implicit in Sanny's comments, for example, is that the Constitution and statute law offer protections based only on immutable characteristics, but this is not true at all. Religious affiliation is a choice, for example, but is protected by the Bill of Rights (the first amendment to the Constitution).

As for 'personal expression,' that, too, is protected by the Constitution: the first amendment prohibits any abridgement of "freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

And as others have pointed out, transgender identity is not a 'lifestyle' in any meaningful sense of the word.

As for "a male being prohibited from wearing a dress is no different than a woman wearing a dress deemed too short as defined by the workplace dress code," Sanny is also wrong about that: the transgender rights law enacted by the NYC Council in 2002 prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression but does not in any way preclude dress codes or standards of professional conduct; but the crucial distinction here is between conduct (too short a dress, for example) and identity.

Mar. 31 2010 01:26 PM

maybe he's wearing cheap shoes because he needs a job.

Mar. 31 2010 01:25 PM
Sanny from Brooklyn

I agree:
maybe if preceptions of "male" and "female" weren't so rigid yet superficial, fewer people would grow up feeling they where "born in the wrong body".

And culturally, that's probably a battle worth waging.

Mar. 31 2010 01:01 PM
Sanny from Brooklyn


How did your previous employer confirm your legal status to work in the US without a driver's license or a birth certificate? Sounds like they didn't do proper documentation for an I9 form.

Now, to Jacqueline. What you are conflating is race and cultural performance. Not hiring a black woman because she's black is obviously discriminatory and unacceptable. Not hiring a black woman because you happen to object to her preferred grooming and wouldn't hire anyone with voluminous hair including Mohawk'd hipsters, Keri Russell types with big unrestrained curls, etc., is completely a matter of discretionary selection of employees who meet your brand image.

Hiring at a beauty company, I wouldn't take on anyone who had an obvious hair weave or toupee, anyone whose clothes were not fashion-forward, anyone whose application of make up was clumsy or who preferred a bare face, anyone carrying the wrong handbag. Are these judgments about their ability to perform basic tasks? No. Would it be hurtful to an applicant to know that I thought he was delightful but wore the wrong tie, cheap shoes, and had lousy fake hair? I'm sure. But we don't live in a world in which we need to accept everyone for absolutely everything and comparing the choice of clothes to the skin in which one is born is the wrong comparison. If you want to fight for the validity of gender transgression as a sacred form of self-expression (like a Jewish man wearing a kippa or a Sikh wearing a turban), then fight that fight. But don't try to equate sartorial choices to matters over which we have no control.

Mar. 31 2010 12:59 PM

maybe if preceptions of "male" and "female" weren't so rigid yet superficial, fewer people would grow up feeling they where "born in the wrong body".

Mar. 31 2010 12:51 PM
Zach from UWS

But Sanny, what if the image of that particular brand is "whites-only?" Does that give that private company the right to discriminate against anyone who does not appear (or perform the role of) white? As you said, certainly poor Jacqueline won't be able to work there and wear her afro...simply not "white" enough. Is that something that should be acceptable in our pluralist democracy?

Also, you never really answered my question about the "required documents" that you had to present upon application of your last job. As I recall, I was required to present neither my birth certificate nor driver's license upon application to my current position.

Mar. 31 2010 12:41 PM

what's "profesional" about lipstick and nail polish?

i mean, i could think of some professions...

Mar. 31 2010 12:41 PM
Sanny from Brooklyn

To ??: You ask if "people who are "legally female" be required to wear skirts, lipstick and colored nail polish?" In some workplaces, that is what is required of them because that's 'professional dress' in those settings. Women who don't like those standards work elsewhere.

Mar. 31 2010 12:31 PM
Sanny from Brooklyn


If your documents contradict one another, you should have them reconciled to one gender or another. That's your individual responsibility.

I'm not going to follow you any further down your road of the red herring. The bottom line is a question as to whether you can express every single part of your being in the workplace or whether certain aspects should be left for your life outside of the workplace. Gender identity *may* be innate but gender performance is an act. I'm not questioning whether or not employers should legally be able to discriminate against people who transgress gender norms in their personal live. What I am saying is that I don't think it unreasonable for an employer to say that traditional gender performance in the workplace is part of one's duties, especially in a customer service role. As an ambassador for a brand, an employee's gender performance reflects on that brand. Any store that requires employees to wear dark garb, conservative jewelry, polished shoes and coiffed hair shouldn't be prohibited from telling someone whose NYS ID says "John" and whose sex is indicated as "M" that he will be required to wear a pantsuit and will not be able to wear lipstick while at work just as Jacqueline can't wear an Afro and must cover her tattoos.

Mar. 31 2010 12:29 PM
a. g. from hudson county nj

i wonder if many of the people who have problems with all this,also negate the feminine in them if they are male,or veceversa for women. do we expect that the plumbing must of necessity fit the behavior or viceversa.

Mar. 31 2010 12:24 PM
Zach from UWS

But Sanny, some people have a big M on their birth certificate and a big F on their driver's license. What then? Which article of "required documentation" (did you have you present a birth certificate to get your current job?) should be the golden standard?

Mar. 31 2010 12:09 PM

should people who are "legally female" be required to wear skirts, lipstick and colored nail polish? ...i'm just wondering...

...sounds stupid to me.

Mar. 31 2010 12:04 PM
Sanny from Brooklyn

Zach, I said nothing about your operation-status. If your required documentation such as driver's license, birth certificate, social security records, etc., indicate you are male or female, that's your legal gender status.

Mar. 31 2010 12:03 PM
a. g. from hudson county nj

much as i hate to self identify in a culturally aproved box,i do think it necessary to make my point. as a straight but not narrow man,i find it sad that adults think that children need to be "sheltered" from an alternate reality. [sounds alien i know]. i had a "there but not there" dad,i would have given the gold of the earth,were it mine to give if he had been there. kids innately gravitate to love. they don't care about the package or the behavior. we dopey adults do.

Mar. 31 2010 12:00 PM
Zach from UWS

So what is the standard Sanny? Should it be heels and pantyhose for post-Op MTFs and suits for pre-Op MTFs? Furthermore, how are we to tell who is pre-op and who is post-op? Should all employees be required to expose their genitals to an employer just so that we can pass you "legally male or female" standard?

Mar. 31 2010 11:58 AM
becky from nyc

All who object to a transgender person in your little world..SHAME on YOU! Teaching our children tolerance & acceptance of others of any dissimilar background or persuasion is CRUCIAL! You know you can explain anything in a simple, age appropriate way.

Mar. 31 2010 11:55 AM
the truth from Betty

#17 - I don't think I ever said I was afraid, I said I was "sick" of this topic. Be gay if you choose, cross dress if you choose and take your lumps like the rest of us! Stop complaining!

Mar. 31 2010 11:53 AM
Gail from Brooklyn

At first, I was very frustrated by the caller who commented that seeing trans people in stores,etc. posed a challenge for her as a parent. I thought,"So people should be denied the opportunity to earn a living because their existence makes you uncomfortable?!"

But as she continued to talk it seemed that the real problem was one of ignorance. The "T" in LGBT is not often enough discussed and I think people like the caller need education about what it means to be trans and what they could say to their children about the issue...

But honestly, people really need to consider that in the middle of an economic crisis, finding evidence of employment discrimination like this is a big deal...

Mar. 31 2010 11:52 AM
Yes, yeah. from Brooklyn, NY

@the truth from Betty the very thing that you are afraid of, you'll be confronted with again and again. You're not just going to meet transfolk/gender queer folks in a store, you're going to meet them at your mall, fave coffee shop, elevators, trains, at the stoplight!

Are you telling me that I should stay home to make walking about with your children comfy for you? We live in an incredibly diverse world, what a bore would it be if everyone had blond hair with a bob cut. Come on now.

Wouldn't hurt to answer questions of a young one, educate yourself before you do so that they don't have a bias view.

Mar. 31 2010 11:51 AM
Sanny from Brooklyn

I thank the guest for responding to my comment but s/he is being disingenuous. Gender performance (ie., what a male or female wears, how he or she behaves, etc.) clearly IS a choice and IS an act and s/he has not made the case for why an employer should legally be compelled to accept this willful behavior. [And yes, I get that it *is* law, I just don't think it *should be* law.] Perhaps the feeling of being transgendered is as innate as skin color or sex but the choice to put on pantyhose and heels versus a suit is not. I don't think it is unreasonable to say that, as part of workplace behavior, people who are legally male should be required to wear pants, eschew lipstick and colored nail polish as a part of professional appearance.

Mar. 31 2010 11:50 AM
Zach from UWS

If you don't ever want to have "uncomfortable" conversations with your children, you probably just shouldn't have children. Having those conversations is part of your job as a parent.

Mar. 31 2010 11:48 AM
the truth from Betty

It is a choice.

Mar. 31 2010 11:47 AM
janice from orange county

Maybe Laurie from Westchester can tell her kids that the absence of duality could be seen as being closer to God, depending on her own beliefs.

Mar. 31 2010 11:47 AM
John from Park Slope, Brooklyn

This is not a lifestyle choice!

Mar. 31 2010 11:46 AM
the truth from Betty

HERE WE GO, I was wondering when we were going to get to the "it's like being Black" comment...IT IS NOT LIKE BEING OF A CERTAIN is a sexual orientation, whether you are choosing or not!

Mar. 31 2010 11:45 AM
inquisigal from Brooklyn

Laurie who just called, stating that trans people in stores make her ability to parent difficult? So, adults in public places should dress/appear a certain way so that kids won't be confused, and people like Laurie won't have to learn how to be sensitive and smart in educating their kids? Absurd.

Mar. 31 2010 11:45 AM
the truth from Betty

You are born man, woman or hemaphrodite! You choose to live as another gender, sick of this topic.

Mar. 31 2010 11:44 AM


Mar. 31 2010 11:44 AM

why does it sound like the this woman needs to educate herself about people before even attempting to educate her kids.

Mar. 31 2010 11:44 AM

What is the difference between a man who is heterosexual who wears a dress to work and a transgender male who wears a dress to work?

Mar. 31 2010 11:43 AM

"why should there be legal protections for someone's lifestyle choice and personal expression? "

Geez. Lifestyle choice?

As for the customer, if discomfort is the issue, I would fire about 25% of men I encounter daily due to their behavior.

Mar. 31 2010 11:43 AM
the truth from Betty

I agree with the caller...just too confusing..and they always want to say it is an "opportunity" for discussion. People do not want to be forced into this conversation with their children before they are ready.

Mar. 31 2010 11:42 AM

What if customers don't want to frequent a store with "transgender" individuals.

Mar. 31 2010 11:41 AM

What exactly is a transgender individual? Either you are a man or a woman? I mean there isn't anything in between?

Mar. 31 2010 11:40 AM
Sanny from Brooklyn

While it is no doubt painful for transgender individuals to find themselves screened out of certain jobs, why should there be legal protections for someone's lifestyle choice and personal expression? A male being prohibited from wearing a dress is no different than a woman wearing a dress deemed too short as defined by the workplace dress code.

Mar. 31 2010 11:34 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.