Silicon Valley trans community faces workplace discrimination, harassment
Roxanne rallies with climate activists at the Santa Clara County Democratic Party Central Committee on Aug. 1, 2019. She said finding employment as a transgender woman has been difficult over the years. Photo courtesy of Tara Sreekrishnan.

As the LGBTQ community mourns the murder of Natalia Smüt and pushes back on violence, some say transgender people face a more subtle form of violence and hostility—workplace discrimination.

Roxanne built a decades-long career as an attorney and judge, then she went public with her identity as a transgender woman.

“I haven’t even been able to get a job interview in five years,” said Roxanne, who holds a master’s degree from UC Berkeley and a doctorate from UC Hastings College of Law. “They would say I’m unqualified. I’ve been a lawyer, a judge and fought for my community for 30 years. If I’m not qualified, then who the hell is qualified?”

A San Jose resident, Roxanne is active in Santa Clara County politics and advocates for the rights of her peers, though she said such work hasn’t helped win over prospective employers. Transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people face disrespect, rejection and hindered mobility in the workplace because of their identity, according to a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

A 2020 survey from the county’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs found that of the 1,531 employees and contracted workers who responded, 10.7% identify as transgender, nonbinary or gender-nonconforming. And out of 79 who currently work for the county, 44.3% reported experiencing discriminatory treatment during their employment.

A 2020 survey administered by the Santa Clara County Office of LGBTQ Affairs highlights negative treatment of transgender and non-binary employees.
A 2020 survey administered by the Santa Clara County Office of LGBTQ Affairs highlights negative treatment of transgender and nonbinary employees.

One of the most common forms of discrimination described in the survey is the lack of acknowledgement of a person’s gender identity, commonly manifested through “misgendering” and “deadnaming.” Misgendering happens when someone uses the wrong pronouns when greeting or referring to a transgender person. Calling someone by a name they no longer use, oftentimes their birth name or past nicknames, is called deadnaming.

“(Misgendering) is the ultimate insult,” Roxanne said. “Because you’re saying, ‘Despite everything you’ve done,’I do not accept you as a woman and you fail as a woman—and I’m calling you a dude to your face.’”

Julie Callahan, founding member of the Transgender Community of Police and Sheriffs, compared deadnaming a trans person to calling a divorced woman by her ex-husband’s name, even after they’ve reverted back to their maiden name or remarried.

Amid the appointment of Anthony Mata as San Jose police chief, Callahan said Mata was among the officers who did not support her transition while she worked at the department.

“Twenty plus years later I still have people who call me by my birth name, old nicknames, and these are cops who I transitioned around,” she said. “To this day they still haven’t come to grips with that.”

Callahan started Transgender Community of Police and Sheriffs in 2001 while still employed as an officer at the San Jose Police Department. With around 6,000 gender-diverse members worldwide, Callahan said trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming law enforcement personnel lack a safe space among intolerant coworkers.

“I was a highly decorated police officer and detective at San Jose PD, pretty much had choice assignments right up until a transition,” she said. “When I disclosed that I was trans, all that stuff changed.”

Callahan left the department in 2010 amid an increasingly unwelcoming work environment—as well as an economic crisis that added to the difficulty of finding new employment.

“I can say I was passed over for less qualified candidates more than a dozen times,” she said.

A 2020 survey administered by the Santa Clara County Office of LGBTQ Affairs shows 10.7% of county employees who responded identify as transgender, nonbinary or gender-nonconforming.

The county Office of LGBTQ Affairs in February outlined plans for increased outreach to the transgender community and apprising them of employment opportunities at the county level. Efforts also include a Transgender Employment Policy and input from county departments such as the Equal Opportunity Department, Gender Health Center and outside stakeholders including the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center.

Office of LGBTQ Affairs Program Manager Daniel Moretti told San José Spotlight the draft policy is currently undergoing a standard review process.

“Proposed programs under this initiative include a county survey to provide deeper insight into barriers to employment, to address broader employment gaps and support implicit bias training,” Senior Management Analyst Sera Fernando told supervisors.

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg requested data on how many transgender people applied for jobs at the county and how many were hired, but Fernando said the county does not currently collect such data.

“We recommend to the county that we (should) collect sexual orientation, gender identity and expression data,” Fernando said.

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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