One small but huge way that the Gender Recognition Bill will impact trans job-seekers
Today the Irish transgender community will celebrate the passing of the Gender Recognition Bill into law. Trans adults will now be able to determine what gender appears on their legal documentation, albeit within a binary framework where there are only two options to select from (a disappointment for those of us who are intersex or who do not identify as male or female), with younger trans people aged 16 and 17 left navigating a legal obstacle course and those under 16 with no legal options at all. But still, it’s massively progressive and a major achievement for those who campaigned tirelessly to bring it to this stage.
What makes this bill progressive is that this process of having your true gender recognised legally can be undertaken without a medical evaluation or surgical intervention. No-one else need vouch for your gender, only you (the actual expert). Self-determination is critical to human rights and the Bill recognises this. The practical implications of the GRB are immense and will make many everyday activities that many of us take for granted, a whole lot easier. This is particularly true when it comes to job seeking.
Recently I facilitated two Career Development Programmes for Trans* People, hosted and funded by Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), with support from Dublin City Council. The idea was to provide trans folk with opportunities to develop resilience and self-esteem as employees or workers and to gain the necessary moral and professional support to move forward in their careers. The need for this programme arose from my own clinical experience and from a survey carried out by TENI, which highlighted employment as an area in need of attention and support in the trans community in Ireland. As reported in Speaking from the Margins (TENI, 2013), 49% of respondents were not in employment and of the 51% who were, much of this work was low paid or part-time. The figures are reflected in a similar study carried out in the UK. One of the potential reasons for these elevated unemployment rates was prior negative experiences of being trans at work, with 14% feeling they had been turned down at recruitment stage because they were trans.
The Career Development Programme gave participants the opportunity to discuss and problem solve around the many barriers to gaining work or to progressing their careers. Dealing with being mis-gendered is a consistent cause of anxiety, whether at interview stage, at work, or during important networking events. How do you correct someone who has mis-gendered you (e.g. referred to you as “he” instead of “she” and vice versa, or assumed you to have a binary gender when in fact you are non-binary), particularly an interviewer or potential boss, without making an “issue” of it? For many, fear and experience of being ‘outed’ during the recruitment process is a major barrier to gaining work, because of the discrimination that is expected to follow, and because for many, it’s personal information, not for sharing with complete strangers. Human resources departments at a minimum, will generally require a copy of some legal form of identification, a birth cert or passport, for example, at some point during recruitment or on-boarding. Other aspects of the recruitment process, such as background checks and requesting copies of academic parchments or certificates which may be in the applicant’s previous names, are also causes for concern.
Having legal identification which reflects and recognises one’s true gender will ease a little of the anxiety that many trans job-seekers experience at the early stages of the recruitment process, allowing many to disclose or not disclose their trans status if or when they want to. It seems small, but it’s huge.