CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With advances in the LGBT movement, especially on issues like marriage equality, occurring rapidly across the country, some are still left wondering when movement leaders might begin to focus more attention on issues like employment.
Access to employment and non-discrimination protections are crucial for some community members, according to a recent report released last fall by the Center for American Progress, Freedom to Work, the Human Rights Campaign, the Movement Advancement Project and the National Black Justice Coalition, among other partners.
The report found that LGBT workers of color face significantly higher risks of joblessness and homelessness. Poverty rates for black same-sex couples are at least twice the rate of black opposite-sex couples, the report also noted.
Similar issues also face transgender workers, obstacles some advocates see even in Charlotte.
“One of the big obstacles for employees and people we’ve worked with is that they have inconsistent documents,” Sarah Demarest, an attorney with the LGBTQ Law Center, noted about transgender workers. “If they have transitioned, sometimes their gender-identity does not match the name on their documents, a driver license for example.”
Jessica Williams, 22, is facing challenges of her own. She’s a low-income student, African-American and transgender. She began her transition in 2012. Before then, she said she could get any job she wanted. But, she hasn’t had a job since transitioning.
“Before, I could find a job in a matter of weeks,” Williams said. “I’ve never had a problem because I had so much training. I even had supervisor training. I never had a problem, especially if I made it to the interview stage.”
But, employers are consistently now passing her over. She said potential employers have been vague for their reasoning.
“They say, ‘We’ve found a candidate that better fits the position,’” Williams said, noting her recent applications have been for entry-level jobs that don’t require all that much experience.
“It is frustrating and weird,” Williams said. “I had so much experience. I’ve been working since I was 15. I’ve had 10-plus jobs working anywhere from retail, sales, a call center, a cleaning service and administrative work. I have a lot of experience.”
Demarest said certain larger, social problems contribute to challenges like those faced by Williams.
“There are systemic and institutional racism and issues of class that sometimes hold people back from being able to have meaningful employment,” she said, citing criminal justice issues and education.
The fall LGBT workers report noted similar issues. LGBT youth of color are among children who are most at risk for dropping out of school.
Williams said employers are missing out when they pass over qualified, yet diverse candidates.
“There are a lot of transgender individuals that I know personally [who] are very well educated and experienced in all types of fields,” she said. “By discriminating, they are limiting themselves. They don’t even know how it might be holding them back. For all they know, their clients might be transgender or have a transgender lover, niece or nephew.”
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act recently saw approval in the U.S. Senate, but is unlikely to pass in the U.S. House. The legislation would protect workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, among other characteristics. It has been on the movement’s agenda for two decades. : :