Have You Ever Lived or Worked Under Another Name?

This question can create tremendous fear for transgender people looking for employment.

“The indignities experienced by transgender individuals – whose numbers are difficult to track but are estimated into the several thousands – are many, evidenced by the elevated rates of suicide, poverty, homelessness and sexual and physical violence.”

Transgender activists are working to make discrimination based on gender identity and expression illegal in New York State, often a beacon for civil rights. The Senate has yet to take up the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) even thought it passed in the Assembly for the sixth time last month.

From The Buffalo News:

It’s been a decade since GENDA was first introduced. Then Sen. Thomas Duane attempted to amend the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act to include the transgender community. His measure failed to win approval, and GENDA was created to correct that error. Yet, it still awaits legislative approval.

What makes the delay even more surprising is that it is occurring in New York, the bluest of the blue states and a beacon for civil rights, a role acknowledged by President Obama in his second inaugural address, which included references to Seneca Falls and the Stonewall Inn.

Yet 16 other states in the nation – including Iowa, Nevada and Minnesota – and countless municipalities – including Buffalo and New York City – have enacted non-discrimination ordinances for all residents regardless of gender identity or expression.

Eight states, including New York, have banned discrimination against transgender state workers through executive order, and nearly half of America’s Fortune 500 companies have done so.

Transgender Activists
Transgender activists Drew Cordes, left, Christopher Argyros, center, and Paola Gonzalez on the front steps of the Capitol on Tuesday May 28, 2013 in Albany, N.Y.

Drew Cordes, Christopher Argyros and Paola Gonzalez are leading the fight to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) during this legislative session. They shared their stories in a recent Times Union article.

The moment of dread for transgender people comes when the question arises on a job application: “Have you ever lived or worked under another name?”

“My heart stops when I come to that question,” conceded Drew Cordes, 31, of Albany, whose male-to-female gender reassignment surgery in 2011 in Montreal was profiled in the Times Union.

“It’s time we let everyone know we have civil rights, too. There’s no wrong time to do the right thing,” said Cordes, a writer and editor who is a founder of the Transgender Advocates of the Capital Region.

Paola Gonzalez, 37, of Albany, a transgender female who transitioned in 2008, was not hired during a three-year job search. Each time, the gender question abruptly ended the interview when a manager discovered that Gonzalez was listed as Pedro on legal documents.

“The past haunts me,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez was harassed by a tenant in the apartment where she lived and the landlord told Gonzalez to leave. Gonzalez, who has a master’s degree in environmental engineering, was forced to sell engineering books and personal belongings to survive. She would have been homeless if friends did not take her in. Gonzales now works as a cashier at Home Depot.

Cordes has been verbally harassed by young men in Washington Park and knows transgender people who have been beaten up, are chronically unemployed, sporadically homeless and plagued by severe depression.

“We know they’re hearing us in the Capitol and they’re going to keep hearing us until GENDA passes,” said Christopher Argyros, 33, of Albany, transgender rights organizer for the Empire State Pride Agenda. He has revved up lobbying before the end of the legislative session on June 20.

Drew, Christopher and Paola are part of a growing movement of transgender activists doing groundbreaking work to move things forward. The Trans 100, an annual list celebrating transgender activists, highlights the “serious, difficult work that is too often overlooked, too often ignored, neither sexy nor glittery nor fun enough to warrant people seeing it.”

How is your church doing with transgender welcome? You can work to make your church more welcoming by using MLP’s Top 10 Ways to Welcome Transgender People to Church (pdf) and our resources on Gender Identity and Expression.

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