York's transgender community facing workplace discrimination

David Weissman
  • Taylor, a 44-year-old York City transgender woman: "Most people are ignorant that we're just humans."
  • A PA bill that would provide workplace protections for LGBT community, sits in House committee.
  • York City's HRC investigated zero gender identity discrimination complaints in 2015.

Several of Amanda Louise Taylor's supervisors had told her she was doing a great job as a forklift operator, but when she started wearing makeup and feminine clothes, "it was just a matter of time," she said.

Taylor, a 44-year-old transgender woman living in York City, was soon included in a large-scale company layoff due to financial strains, but when the business was back on its feet and hiring everyone back, Taylor was told she wasn't allowed back.

"They told me they had a problem with my work performance," she said. "My work performance never changed."

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Members of the transgender community in York County say they continue to face workplace discrimination with an unfavorable political climate and a lack of general public education that has transgender rights falling behind progress made by other groups in the LGBT movement.

The numbers support their claims: 74 percent of transgender Pennsylvania residents have reported experiencing harassment or mistreatment on the job, 26 percent lost a job, 12 percent had a household income of $10,000 or less, and 49 percent were verbally harassed or disrespected at a place of public accommodation, according to a recent National Transgender Discrimination survey.

On Thursday night, transgender Pennsylvania residents spoke for themselves, gathering on the steps of the Capitol in Harrisburg for International Transgender Day of Visibility. The group of about 50 transgender people and supporters shared stories to shed a light on discrimination and fight for the passage of HB 1510, known as the PA Fairness Act.

By the numbers: Transgenderism in U.S and Pa.

Anti-discrimination legislation: The bill offers an amendment to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, originally written in 1955, to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression in employment, housing and public accommodation.

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Twenty states and Washington, D.C., currently offer transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination laws, according to the Movement Advancement Project, but the PA Fairness Act has languished in the House's State Government committee since September despite support from Gov. Tom Wolf and 78 percent of Pennsylvania residents, according to a Pennsylvania Competes survey of registered voters.

Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the importance of passing the Fairness Act is apparent on numerous levels.

"It's incredibly important from a moral perspective, from a civil rights perspective and economic competitiveness," he said. "We need to attract the best and brightest, and provide them protection."

York City is one of 34 municipalities in the state with ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or both. Municipalities' right to enforce such ordinances has been a national story lately, with North Carolina recently passing a law banning any local government measures protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

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Carla Christopher, president of Equality Fest, said the ordinances — and even a state law — still won't be able to eliminate discrimination.

"People can get around protections," she said. "It's so hard to prove it."

York City's Human Relations Commission is in charge of enforcing the ordinance by investigating discrimination complaints. Last year was the first year that gender identification was included, but no complaints from the group were investigated, according to Johanna Ramirez, the commission's administrative intake support specialist.

"I don't think many people know we cover the gender identification ordinance," Ramirez said.

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The commission received four sexual orientation inquiries, which Ramirez said includes gender identity, but none were investigated. Potential reasons include the complaint not being in their jurisdiction, the complainant not following through with paperwork or insufficient evidence, she said.

Race, with 22 complaints in 2015, and disability, with 25 complaints, are the two areas in which the the commission consistently sees the most complaints, Ramirez said.

Click here for a guide to filing a discrimination complaint in York City.

Not enough: Tara Stark, a 21-year-old transgender woman living in York City, currently works as a pizza delivery person and school crossing guard, but shortly after she legally changed her name in January 2014, she said she was fired from one job and pushed out of two other paid positions.

Enrolled in York College at the time, Stark was forced to drop out in March 2014 due in part to financial strain, she said.

Transgender people and supporters hold up signs Thursday, March 31, 2016, during a rally at the state Capitol to fight for the passage of the Fairness Act which would offer protections for LGBT individuals with regards to employment and housing. Amanda J. Cain photo

"I don't need a settlement in a year and a half," Stark said of the commission's process. "I need a job."

Taylor, the York City resident who lost her job as a forklift operator, said she doesn't trust any law to protect her. She currently works for an employer who has no problem with her transgender status, she said, but she can't dress completely feminine at work due to the physical nature of her job as an industrial cleaner.

"I've never had any problems with customers," Taylor said at a recent meeting for Transology, a transgender educational and support organization with chapters in York and Lancaster.

Several other Transology members had to hide their true nature for the majority of their careers.

Wylynn Hoffman, a 75-year-old transgender woman living in Stewartstown, spent her entire career as a teacher in Baltimore as a man, a day-to-day struggle she described as "incredibly frustrating."

Wyllyn Hoffman, of Stewartstown, poses for a portrait after the Transgender Day of Visibility rally Thursday, March 31, 2016, at the state Capitol. Hoffman, 75, says " that she was playing a role for 70 years, and was happy to finally be free". Amanda J. Cain photo

"It was such a taboo subject when I was growing up; the Internet didn't exist, and you couldn't just walk into the library and ask for books on transgenderism," Hoffman said. "There were no resources to develop awareness that I wasn't alone. It's intimidating to think you're the only person on the planet feeling like this."

Need to educate: Educating the public is the key to improvement in treatment of the transgender community, according to Taylor.

"Most people are ignorant that we're just humans," Taylor said. "We're not perverts; most of use just want to be left alone."

Taylor said her parents think she pretends to be a woman to embarrass them, and her ex-wife won't let her see their three children because she doesn't agree with Taylor's "lifestyle."

"It's not a lifestyle; no one would put themselves through this on purpose," Taylor said, met with audible agreement from other Transology members. "You can't change who you are."

With gay marriage recently legalized across the U.S., Christopher said transgender awareness is now at the forefront of the LGBT movement. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf last year appointed Dr. Rachel Levine, a transgender woman, as the state's physician general.

Equality Pennsylvania, an organization devoted to advancing equality and opportunity for LGBT Pennsylvania residents, organized the rally in Harrisburg for the first time this year.

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Daye Pope, the organization's transgender rights organizer, said she was hired last year because the leaders of Equality PA realized the community was getting left behind.

"We need to make sure all aspects of public life are aware transgender people are just regular people and deserving of just as much respect as anyone else," Pope said.

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