Employment discrimination against transgender people is a staggering problem for LGBT rights advocates in the United States with unemployment rates twice the national average, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
But the newly formed Association of Transgender Professionals is taking on an even broader mission — fighting for inclusion on a global scale.
“We’re already getting requests to help other countries, like the U.K.,” says ATP’s executive director Denise Norris. “There are folks in a lot of places who are excited that we are available to the public.”
The very term “transgender,” she notes, is an imperfect one.
“‘Transgender’ is a very U.S. concept,” says Norris. “It’s very Western in its model; it’s based upon the gender binary, so the challenge is how do we look at workplace inclusion on an international scale.”
ATP, co-founded by Norris and Joe McCormack, is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving employment rates for transgender people by building acceptance in the workplace, helping trans people learn how to find jobs and by providing businesses a channel to reach out to transgender talent. The organization is headquartered in New York, but has advisers in most major urban areas of the country. In D.C., longtime advocate Bob Witeck of Witeck Communications is an ATP adviser.
“The rate of unemployment is about 200 percent of the national average for the trans community in general, and 400 percent for trans people of color,” Norris says. “ATP is about building acceptance inside the workplace and in employers, and about helping our community learn how to get jobs. Many of us thought we wouldn’t have real jobs and don’t know how to interview, or don’t know how to dress for success.”
Just this week came a reminder about the need for more trans visibility in the broader LGBT movement, as Allyson Robinson, a trans woman, was forced to resign as executive director of OutServe-SLDN.
Norris noted that many ATP members are military veterans.
“One cannot serve with Pride if one is commanded to do so in the closet,” she said. “Allyson’s role at OutServe-SLDN was a beacon to all by demonstrating that transgender was finally an equal partner in the struggle for LGBT equality.”
ATP helps trans people find jobs in all sectors of the economy, and is not limited to helping those who have MBAs or other degrees. Unemployment at the entry level is considered just as important to combat.
In addition to directly helping transgender people seek employment, ATP also helps companies and organizations seek transgender employees. As Norris explains, it is difficult for many accepting companies to advertise that they are transgender friendly.
“There are no avenues for the companies that are transgender friendly,” she says, “they don’t know how to recruit to us. There are no recruiting channels. … In many cases of employment, we don’t even know who wants to hire us — who doesn’t care about gender expression.”
Both Norris and McCormack have corporate backgrounds. In 1993, McCormack founded McCormack and Associates (now McCormack and Warren), which he says was the first gay-identified executive search firm in the U.S.
“My observation as a recruiter is that the transgender population, of which many people are talented and accomplished, is the most unemployed and underemployed sector of our community because of this discrimination,” McCormack says. “Recruiters who often are gatekeepers are concerned that their clients may be biased against transgender people. They don’t even give them the opportunity to consider them, so the company would be trans friendly, but there is this bias in the recruiting profession that is a real barrier for transgender people.”
Norris founded the educational and direct-action group, The Transsexual Menace, in 1993. She has worked in the corporate sector since around that same year, and currently is a consultant for the multinational management-consulting firm, Accenture. In addition to working with clients, Norris advises the firm on how to be more inclusive and accepting of diverse gender expression.
McCormack and Norris said that based on their corporate experience, they know that inclusion appeals to many large corporations.
“I can talk corporate. I know what motivates employers. A lot of advocacy groups are not talking the same language as employers,” Norris says. “There’s this concept called ‘corporate talent,’ which is why ‘LGB’ recruiting is very hot. We know diverse teams have a statistical likelihood of making better products. Trans is the last untapped pool of diversity talents. We’ve got Ph.D.s working as file clerks, and geologists working in back stores.”
As ATP undergoes the process of gaining its own non-profit status, the association is operating under the auspices of the New York LGBT Center. It is mostly funded by donations, and by grants from large foundations. ATP has received a $10,000 grant from the Pallette Foundation of New York, and a $25,000 challenge grant from the Calamus Foundation.
ATP is inclusive of those in the transgender community who do not identify within the binary of male or female. The association’s goal is to make the workplace accepting of all forms of gender expression, not just gender expression that complements traditional views of masculinity and femininity.
“Every 25 years, there’s this convulsion. Stonewall was the first convulsion, 25 years later, our community convulsed again, and out of that convulsion came ‘LGBT.’ What we’re seeing now is that the next generation coming in on that 25 year cycle is forcing us to redefine LGBT in their terms,” Norris says. “I believe since other people allowed me to stand on their shoulders in the ‘90s, I have an obligation and stewardship that the soil we till with ATP in the workplace must accommodate genderqueer and omnisexual. It cannot be latched onto the gender binary.”
Casa Ruby (2822 Georgia Ave., N.W.) is a multicultural center and safe space for the D.C. Latino transgender community. The organization provides housing assistance, employment advocacy, HIV testing and other services. Ruby Corado, the organization’s director, is excited by the founding of the Association of Transgender Professionals and the work they are doing.
“It is such a needed area of work. It comes down to another pressing issue, which is violence. I think the fact that people are not employed puts them at risk, because they are confined to living in neighborhoods where it’s not safe,” Corado says. “I will say ‘kudos’ to the people putting this together. As a transgender organization in D.C. focusing on the local needs of trans people, we certainly welcome them and will help to work with them.”
Although the ATP specifically advocates for the transgender community, Norris describes the organization as inclusive of all individuals who are gender non-conforming, including those who are gay and lesbian.
“I see us all as one people. I’m in favor of getting rid of the acronym. I prefer the word ‘queer,’ she says.
For more information on the Association of Transgender Professionals, visit transgenderprofessionals.org.