November 20 is the International Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR). It is a day for trans people and their loved ones to mourn and memorialize all of the trans people who have been murdered in the past year. Trans people, like many people from marginalized communities, are at higher risk for violence and discrimination. Most of the victims are people of colour and most live in poverty. It is a somber affair. Community members tend to stick together in observance of TDOR and it is unusual to see it reported in mainstream media. But that does not lessen the significance of this day. Communities come together in solidarity, to support, and to hope that someday things will be different. Cis-people* with no real connection to the trans community may feel that they would not get much out of Trans Day of Remembrance. But they are wrong about that.
It is almost certain that some of you work right next to trans people without even knowing it. For trans workers, finding employment can be a significant challenge. People who transition will go through a “second puberty.” For those who are starting in the job market, employers, especially those in the service industry, might be uncomfortable hiring someone with a non-traditional body type. For people who are transitioning and changing jobs later in life, they might find that their old references are in a name they no longer use. The union’s purpose is to represent all of its members equitably. Not only to ensure that their employment rights are protected, but also to enforce the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC). This includes trans people at all stages of their journey. It is more than just for those who have already transitioned, but also for many who struggle in silence.
Many trans people are too scared to come out, to self-identify as who they are. Fear of losing employment is a major concern that many trans people face in the workplace. Surveys conducted in Ontario indicate that while the majority of trans people have at least some college or university education, about half of them don’t earn enough to keep above the poverty line. About two thirds are so fearful of abuse that they avoid public spaces, including medical care. Trans people do not just fear losing their jobs. Their daily reality includes being aware that their name could be easily added to the tragic list of names read out during the TDOR memorial service.
Support must be in place for trans employees in the workplace. When they come out, they run up against prejudice and discrimination. But it is not enough to stand with, and defend a trans employee after they complain of mistreatment based on their gender identity and/or gender expression. We need to step it up and look for opportunities to create safer spaces at work. This means learning what is wrong and challenging it. Nasty drag jokes, making fun of trans celebrities or inaccurate news stories only derail any progress that may have been achieved. Generic homophobia affects them too because those jokes are based on the same gender stereotype nonsense. We ask you, in all your workplaces to speak out against this mistreatment. By choosing to be one of the people who say “knock it off,” and “hey, not cool,” and “yeah that’s not funny guys,” you are not only doing your part to help save lives, but you have the chance to truthfully say “I support you.”
- Trans is an umbrella term for transgender and refers to people who feel that their gender (male or female) is not aligned with the body they had at birth. Cis, or cisgender refers to everyone who is not trans.