Trans and gender nonconforming people speak out: stories of discrimination

Transgender and gender non-conforming people often face discrimination in their day-to-day lives.  That includes discrimination and mistreatment when accessing public accommodations, obtaining housing, and seeking employment.  Many members of the transgender and gender non-conforming (“TGNC”) community have displayed strength and courage in speaking out against and challenging this unjust discrimination.  Here are the stories of some of the brave and resilient individuals committed to fighting injustice.

Beverly

Beverly, a transgender Latina woman and a member of Translatina Network, is currently working to open up her own salon. As a transgender woman, Beverly has long layered hair that frames her face. In or around 2012, Beverly made an appointment at a local hair salon. Once she arrived and the stylist learned she was transgender, the stylist began making offensive, transphobic comments to Beverly, including using religion as a reason for refusing to cut Beverly’s hair.  Beverly left the hair salon embarrassed and ashamed.  Feelings of worthlessness hung heavy on Beverly.  The experience affected Beverly for years,  making it impossible for Beverly to visit a salon.  Beverly therefore took matters into her own hands and learned to cut her own hair.   By cutting her own hair, Beverly found her passion as a hair stylist.  She became licensed and is working to make her dream come true, opening a salon that will be a safe space for all TGNC people.

Carolina

In 2014, Carolina D, a transgender Latina woman and member of Translatina Network, along with two other transgender Latina women, went to a large department store in New York City for a day of shopping. They began browsing for dresses and shortly thereafter were approached by a representative from the store. The store representative asked all three women to leave the store because, according to the representative, it was not a place for people like them.  Feeling at risk and unwelcomed, Carolina and her friends left the store.  Despite knowing that the treatment she experienced was illegal based on New York law, Carolina felt unsafe reporting this discrimination because she was undocumented.

Oliver

Oliver is a 21-year old-engineering student living in Davis, California.  They identify as “agender” and exclusively present their gender as non-binary.  In May 2016, Oliver started searching for housing.  However, during the search process, they experienced blatant discrimination.

Oliver experienced almost an identical pattern of events each time they reached out to an landlord. During their initial contact, Oliver would first describe who they are and what they do without mentioning that they are gender non-conforming.  Once they heard back from the potential landlord, Oliver would let them know that they are trans but explaining that in no way would this affect their housing situation or their status as a reliable tenant.  Oliver wanted all of this information to be out from the beginning, particularly for the purpose of protecting them from a transphobic environment.  However, in the majority of cases, the landlord would stop responding to Oliver after they revealed their trans identity, or the landlord would respond back saying they do not want a transgender person living there.  Often Oliver would follow up multiple times via email, but the emails remained unanswered.

Terrified of being homeless, Oliver’s sister bought them a tent and Oliver found a campground from where they could travel to school each day.  However, Oliver did not want to live in a tent.  Luckily, five days before becoming homeless, Oliver found space in a housing complex for queer and disabled individuals.  Happy to finally have a safe home, Oliver moved in.  However, Oliver’s mental health was affected by the constant discrimination and rejection they experienced at the hands of the other landlords. They felt depressed, and their existing  post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) (resulting from childhood abuse) became exacerbated by the multiple negative interactions with the landlords.

Tee

Tee, an Afro-Latino, gender-fluid person, grew up in Brooklyn, New York.  As a result of being rejected by their family, Tee was homeless and bounced around several emergency shelters before finding supportive housing.  Since transitioning, it has been difficult for Tee to find a job due to transphobia.  Tee has been sexually harassed at work and asked if they have a real penis or a plastic penis.  In one instance, Tee’s supervisor groped Tee from behind. Recently, Tee changed their gender markers to male, and the supportive housing program that was providing them services began discriminating against them. The organization constantly misgendered Tee, and the staff that were previously supportive of them, completely abandoned Tee.  The counselor that was supporting Tee’s educational and mental health needs stopped checking in on Tee’s suicide prevention safety plan that was put in place in January 2017.  The counselor is also no longer helping Tee navigate their supportive housing.

Tee has felt isolated and alone.  Experiencing high levels of anxiety, it is difficult for Tee to leave their apartment. They are also having trouble sleeping and their other medical conditions have been exacerbated by the experience.

Jamie

Jamie, who identifies as “genderqueer,” grew up in upstate New York but made their way to New York City as an adult. They are very active in their community, working closely with a queer synagogue as well as engaging and doing other community work, including creating safe spaces for queer and trans youth.  A year ago, Jamie had unprotected sex and realized the safest thing to do was to reach out immediately to a doctor for post-exposure prophylaxis (“PEP”).  Jamie went to the local urgent care center in Astoria, Queens.  The first doctor Jamie saw refused to treat them and provide them with PEP.  The doctor said that the gender markers on Jamie’s paperwork did not match and therefore they could not help Jamie.  The second doctor Jamie saw was uninformed about how PEP and Testosterone interacted.  This delay in treatment could have impacted Jamie’s ability to use PEP effectively.

This experience has stayed with Jamie. They are terrified to reach out for emergency medical assistance. Jamie also has a fear of regular doctor’s appointments.  Because they fear that they will be treated poorly again, they often miss appointments and necessary medical treatment. As a result, Jamie has avoided getting tested for HIV.

Jerianne

Jerianne is a 56-year-old transgender woman who lives in California.  A few years ago, she was admitted to the hospital after being violently beaten by her son-in-law. She was waiting in the hallway of the hospital when a doctor approached her.  He told her to strip.  She refused, telling the doctor that she did not want to take her clothes off in the hallway.  He then opened the door to her exam room and instructed her to go inside.  The doctor refused to enter the room.  Coming no further than the doorway, he told her that he would get x-rays for her. Because the doctor would not enter the room to speak with Jerianne, she was unable to ask him any questions.  After the x-rays results were in, the doctor once again refused to enter Jerianne’s hospital room and instead stood at the doorway to relay her results.  He told her that she had a broken neck and that someone would be in to give her a neck brace. The doctor walked away, never to be seen again.

Jerianne’s ordeal did not end there.  Later, while still dressed in her skirt and top,  two police officers walked into her room. The officers looked at her with a smirk on their faces and said “how can we help you, sir?”  She felt so terrible and scared, in addition to the physical pain she was enduring as a result of the beating.  She did not know how to respond.  She told them to leave, and she knew that they were just being mean. That night, she went home and attempted suicide.  Jerianne has since been connected to many LGBTQ leaders in California and has received a lot of support.  She is even now the executive director of a small LGBT center.  However, the night in the hospital still haunts her.  She cannot find medical care in her area and therefore has to travel over an hour away for fear that she might have the same experience with local doctors. She also has a fear of ever reaching out to the police for help because of the treatment she received that night.

Jaime

Jaime is a 50-year-old transgender Latina woman from South Central Los Angeles. When she initially came out to her family, it was difficult, but as time passed, Jaime’s family learned to love, support, and accept her.  Growing up, Jaime had a dream of becoming a flight attendant.  She wanted to see the world, and she knew that becoming a flight attendant could help her do that.  She also knew that her friendly personality would suit her well in that career.

Fifteen years ago, Jaime applied to college, with the goal of being a flight attendant, but the dean of the college told her she could not attend the school because she would not be accepted in some countries because she was a transgender woman.  She was forced to leave college, but Jaime refused to give up on her dreams. She researched another way of becoming a flight attendant.  She applied for a job at Continental Airlines.  This job required a four-day training, which Jaime successfully passed before making it to the final interview. At the final interview, Jaime was informed that she could not get the job as long as she presented as a woman because the gender markers on her passport did not match her gender presentation.  She was told she would either need to present as the gender on her passport or not work for that airline.  Jaime cried the whole way home from the interview.  She was so excited to be the first “girl like her” to get a job as a flight attendant.  When she was unable to get the job because she was a trans woman, Jaime felt like all the doors of opportunity were closed to her. She did not know what she was going to do to be able to survive. So she moved to New York and took the only job she thought she would be able to get: working as a sex worker in a brothel.  During her time in New York, Jaime felt depressed and worthless.

After a few months in New York, Jaime decided that she was no longer going to think negatively.  She realized that people were going to hate her because of who she was but that she would not respond to their hate with anything but love and compassion.  Jaime left the sex industry and now works in a coffee shop and does community service with her church.  But she no longer tells anyone that she is trans.  She is terrified if someone finds out, a repeat of what happened to her in college and with Continental Airlines would occur again.

Joanne

Joanne is 46-year-old.  Her background is Native American and Scottish Irish.  She was born in Colorado Springs and has remained there since.  Throughout her life, Joanne has spent her time working at community centers and helping other people.  Her true passion in life is making music.  In 2015, Joanne was working at Turks Bar/Restaurant. When Joanne was first offered the job, the owner specifically told Joanne that her transgender status would not be an issue. Although this seemed true initially, once new employees started, things changed.  One manager in particular began targeting Joanne.  She would verbally harass Joanne, using her religious beliefs to justify the mistreatment.

One day, Joanne was using the women’s restroom and a patron complained to the management.  Julie, the manager, then started asking Joanne to use the men’s restroom, which she did not feel comfortable doing.  Joanne explained to her manager that Colorado law allows her to decide which bathroom to use.  She also pointed out that the employee rights were not posted on the wall as required.  Her manager told her that she did not believe it was necessary to post these laws.

After that, Joanne’s work life became a series of violent, hateful incidents.  In one situation, Joanne was trying to take care of a water leak in the office of the restaurant. One of the employees, who previously used his religious beliefs as an excuse for harassing Joanne, was also in the same space.  He began obstructing her work to fix the water leak.  He became aggressive and started physically attacking and punching her. Joanne called for help, and the employee ran away.  Joanne contacted the police, who stated they could not provide her with any assistance because they did not know how to assist transgender individuals.

As Joanne’s work environment became more hostile, it simultaneously became more overtly religious.  Joanne started to hear more aggressive religious arguments against her presence, with some people not allowing her to interact with children and making false claims that she was a pedophile.  At that point, Joanne suffered another physical attack, this time in the kitchen.  After the attack, Joanne reported it, but the management denied the event ever occurred.  Joanne wanted to quit for her safety, but she also needed a job.  She sought therapy as a way to deal with the harm the job was causing, but this sometimes coincided with her work hours.  In one instance, Joanne told management weeks in advance that she would be late due to therapy, however she was still yelled at when she arrived. Her manager denied that Joanne had given such advanced notice. Ultimately, they fired Joanne.

After experiencing this mistreatment, Joanne felt broken. She felt betrayed by the establishment and her co-workers. Her depression became worse and she started to experience severe self-esteem issues.  Joanne now fears being around people and has secluded herself, choosing to live on a friend’s farm.  She would like to engage with her community, but her trauma and fear prohibit her from being able to do so without experiencing severe anxiety.

Jaisee

Jaisee is a white and First Nations transgender woman born and raised in Charleston, North Carolina.  She grew up in a Christian working-class family.  Her Christian identity was always important to her.  When Jaisee was 17 years old, she began working at Boone Hill Farms in North Carolina to support herself.  One day her co-worker set her aside and held a Bible in front of her.  Her co-worker pointed out a passage and declared that “Jaisee was an abomination” because of her gender expression.  Stunned and terrified, Jaisee left the room and avoided all contact and communication with the co-worker.  At 17 years old, and needing to have a job in order to survive, Jaisee continued to work with that co-worker.

This interaction resulted in long-term consequences for Jaisee.  Her Christian faith was the only source of safety prior to the incident at Boone Hill, and yet after the incident she began to question her Christianity.  The incident made her feel like there was something wrong with her and that she no longer belonged to her Christian community.  Due to her loss of faith, and feeling that she would not be accepted by her religion, she began to have symptoms of anxiety and depression.  She self-medicated with drugs and alcohol and even attempted suicide multiple times.  Because her town was very religious, Jaisee felt that she could not reach out to anyone for help or support, including her own doctor.

Cal

Cal, a trans non-binary person, grew up in Fremont, California in a loving and supportive family.  They went to Washington High School and were a member of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance.  While in high school, Cal learned that there was not an inclusive sex education program in place. Cal knew an inclusive sex education program was important to ensure that all students would receive the information they needed to be safe and stay healthy if and when they decide to engage in sexual activity.  For over a year, the GSA advocated to the school and district explaining why a more inclusive sex education curriculum was needed.

However, religious groups found out about the advocacy work. These religious groups got upset and made statements that they wanted to “maintain the purity of children” and that “LGBT people were dangerous deviants.” They made these comments on radio shows, gave testimony during school board hearings, and had their own messaging campaign. These religious groups kept pushing their message that LGBT youth were bad and deviant and should not be included in any type of curriculum because they did not deserve to be protected.  The barrage of harassment deeply affected Cal and made their depression worse, to the point of considering suicide.

Zachary

Zachary, a 24-year-old black transgender man, was born in Detroit, Michigan.  Zachary grew up in a middle-class family and came out as lesbian when he was young.  Due to homophobia and lack of family acceptance, at age 16, Zachary was kicked out of his house and forced to sleep in other people’s homes, homeless shelters, and on the streets. Despite this instability in his childhood, Zachary finished high school and joined the Army.

A few years ago, after his time in the Army, Zachary began working for AT&T.  At that point Zachary did not have his gender markers or name changed on his identity documents.  He was hoping to do so after his first few pay checks, because the process was very expensive.  After he began working, Zachary  started to be harassed by a store manager. The manager was a pastor for the Church of God in Christ.  He had religious items all over his office, such as pictures of himself on the pulpit of the church as well as pictures with other pastors.  Zachary noticed that he was getting written up for things that other employees would not get written up for, which he believed was a result of his manager’s religious objections  to his trans status.  For example, he lost his company phone and was written up.  However, another cisgender employee had lost their company phone multiple times and there were no consequences for him. The store manager socially isolated him and ignored him as well.  It was the store custom to give each employee a turkey for Thanksgiving, but Zachary was left out of this practice.

As harassment at work intensified, Zachary reached out to his store manager for help.  He reported that a co-worker was outing him and spreading rumors. The manager said “if you were not trying to be deceptive pretending to be a man then there wouldn’t be a problem with anyone.”  To make matters worse, after the shooting of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, Zachary shared with his co-workers that he could not see videos because of the PTSD he experienced from serving in the military.  One of the co-workers insisted that Zachary watch the video, triggering his PTSD as a result.  This treatment at Zachary’s job had serious effects on his mental health.  He suffered increased depression and required medication. His PTSD, depression, and anxiety were so exacerbated that he had to be hospitalized for eight days.

Allison

In March 2013 Allison, a transgender Cambodian woman, received a letter stating that she needed to appear at the DMV to surrender her previous license and resubmit a decree changing her name.  Allison was informed that DMV staff had lost the original name changing decree that she had previously submitted.  The following month, Allison went to the DMV as instructed.  Upon arrival, Alison placed her name on the waiting list and eventually was called to a service window.  She presented all of the required documents to a DMV worker.  As the DMV worker reviewed Allison’s documents, the worker became visibly angry. The worker began talking and her voice grew louder.  She began making disparaging comments to Alison.  She told Allison “if you got tested, your genes are still going to be a man.”  She also told Allison that she is the devil who needed to change her life for God, that she was a mistake, and that she should be asking God for forgiveness.  She said her gender identity was a choice and that even if Allison were to get a sex change or breast operation she would still be a man. The worker justified her discriminatory comments on grounds that God put it in her heart to tell Allison that it’s God’s opinion that Allison was not right.  While making these horrible comments, the worker became more and more angry and threatening towards Allison.

People throughout the DMV, including some of Allison’s colleagues who did not know she was transgender, could hear the worker’s discriminatory statements.   Allison began to cry. Terrified, she did not know what to do.  Eventually, another DMV worker came over and took Allison’s documents.  The new worker contacted the supervisor, who supervisor acknowledged that the statements were inappropriate.  However, the DMV did not provide Allison with a new driver’s license; rather they told her that she needed to send the documents to Sacramento for processing.  The DMV did not even give her a temporary license for her to use while her documents were being processed.

Alison gathered her courage and filed a complaint against the worker from the DMV only to find out that this worker had been inappropriate on at least two other occasions. Allison felt horrible and demeaned. She felt humiliated and scared. She felt unsafe going to other places to reach out for services.  She enrolled herself in therapy to try to handle the emotional damage that her trip to the DMV caused and is now taking medication to address her anxiety and depression.  Allison began having problems at work because she knew that some of her co-workers who were present at the DMV that day did not know she was transgender but now have that information. The anxiety and nervousness cause Allison to be distracted at work and prevent her from participating in her full job responsibilities.  On one occasion, Allison’s anxiety caused her to be late to work, which resulted in disciplinary action by her employer.  Eventually, she was terminated by her employer.

This terrifying interaction at the DMV has also taken an enormous toll on Allison’s personal life. She has flashbacks of the incident and hears the DMV workers words repeating in her head. These flashbacks often caused her to break out into uncontrollable tears. She has become self-conscious in public and fearful that many strangers may attack her.  She has become withdrawn from socializing with friends.

Jackie

Jackie is a 50-year-old, Filipina transgender woman living in San Francisco.  About 10 years ago, Jackie made the decision to get gender-affirming breast augmentation surgery. She went to a doctor who worked in a Catholic hospital in San Francisco and had a good reputation of working with trans communities.  Jackie’s surgery went well, but six weeks later she found out that she had a problem with her left breast implant.  Due to a severe infection, the doctor had to remove the implant and informed Jackie that it would take 6 months to heal before it could be replaced.  Jackie waited patiently for her surgery, which was completed without any immediate problems.  But two weeks later, her body rejected the left implant, and she got another infection.  She was again told that she had to wait 6 months before another implant was put in to her breast.

Shortly before the third surgery, her doctor showed her a letter from the Catholic hospital stating they are no longer serving transgender individuals, including breast augmentations for transgender people.  Jackie was told by her doctor that she had a few options.   First, she did not have to move forward with a new implant in her left breast. Second, the doctor could try to find another place for the surgery.  Terrified, Jackie was not sure what to do.  She had been living her life with one breast implant and really wanted to move forward on her left implant.  Despite her fears, she told the doctor that if he could find a place that would accept her, she would move forward with the surgery.  The time she waited for a response from the doctor was agonizing.  Finally, he contacted her and told her that he found another place for the surgery. Luckily, third time’s a charm and the breast implant went well and she had no infection.

However, after this experience, Jackie became scared to seek medical care because she feared she would be rejected again. She became convinced that doctors and nurses were talking about her behind her back and became paranoid. She also began experiencing a lot of anxiety.  Ten years later, Jackie still feels this anxiety. She’s very cautious in medical settings now. She fears that if she does reach out to a hospital or a doctor they will reject her again. Jackie knows from experience, that she can be rejected at any point because she is transgender.  These thoughts stay with her always.

Mickey

Mickey knew from an early age that she was transgender.  One of her earliest memories of her childhood in Tennessee was praying to God to change her into a girl.  But as a child that dream did not come true.  Instead she was raised in the church where she was told that God would hate her if she were a woman.  For most of her life, Mickey was deeply in the closet.  However, after a severe heart problem that landed Mickey in the hospital, she could not help but think about how much more comfortable she would be with herself if she was living as a woman.  In 2013, Mickey felt she had no other choice but to come out and transition.  Three years later, Mickey started hormones and was feeling great.  She inquired about getting an orchiectomy to surgically remove her testicles.  Although Mickey received approval from her health insurance provider, she ran into trouble with the Catholic hospital. The hospital refused to allow her surgery to move forward because the it did not agree with gender-affirming surgery.  In Tennessee, there are not a lot of surgeons who provide this type of procedure.  Unfortunately, the surgeon Mickey found to perform her surgery, had surgical privileges at this hospital.

After being denied the surgery, Mickey felt deflated. For most of her life, Mickey struggled with depression and she now felt it back with full force. She felt tortured.  Although she liked the way the hormones were working to change her body, she still had fear of going out in public due to the rapid growth of her facial hair.  She had to shave before leaving home and was fearful that people would notice her facial hair.  She knew that this surgery would help stop the hair growth, and her fear, and allow her to live a safe life.  She did not understand why the hospital would be allowed to use religion to prevent this much-needed surgery and why the hospital should be able to decide what type of surgery she was allowed to have.  Mickey was frustrated because it was a simple same-day procedure that she was being denied because of her gender identity.   For Mickey the surgery would provide so much relief for her gender dysphoria.  It would allow her to live her life and feel safe.

Alex

Alex is a 12-year-old child from New York State. His father is a transgender man who has identified as queer since 1991, and for the past two years has been dressing in masculine clothing and began a medical transition in 2016.  His father is a state contractor and works as a psychologist.

This past summer, Alex went to an overnight summer camp run by Catholic Charities.  Alex enjoyed overnight camp, participated in activities, and like many children at camp, came home covered in mosquito bites.  When his parents came to pick him up, his camp counselor followed Alex and his parents to the car.  His counselor asked Alex’s dad, “are you transgender?” Alex’s father answered him with a sincere “yes.”  Alex was confused about why the counselor asked that question.

The following week, the camp decided to call Child Protective Services (“CPS”) on the family, falsely accusing Alex’s father of abuse and neglect, including physically harming Alex and his sister, as well as burning them with cigarettes and starving them.  CPS showed up at the camp and interviewed both Alex and his sister who explained that the marks on their body were mosquito bites, not cigarette burns.  Alex’s father immediately took his children to the family physician who also made a statement documenting that the allegations were absurd and that there were no burn marks on the children, only mosquito bites. The camp’s allegations continued, including that Alex, who is gender-nonconforming, “acted and dressed too feminine.” The camp also reported that Alex hugged and held his father’s hand while crossing the street and this hugging and holding hands constituted incest.

The CPS investigation lasted for 60 days only to find that there was absolutely no harm done to either of the children.  During that time, Alex watched his father being continuously misgendered.  Alex and his sister were scared throughout this entire process.  Alex’s sister had severe anxiety and was terrified that she would be taken from her parents.  Alex’s father was also terrified about these false allegations.  He was scared that his children would be taken away and that his career would be affected, making it difficult to provide financial support for his family.  Ultimately, these allegations were revealed to baseless and transphobic, but the long-term impact on Alex, his sister, and his father include anxiety, fear, and nightmares, which they experience to this day.  Alex and his sister had initially enjoyed summer camp but now fear ever returning.

Alexa

Alexa is a 38-year-old transgender women from Central America.  In the spring of 2015, Alexa decided to get gender affirming breast  augmentation.  She contacted Georgetown University hospital and met with a doctor for consultation.  After her insurance approved the procedure, she reached out to the doctor to make a pre-surgery appointment. When Alexa was finally able to reach the doctor, the doctor told her that the hospital was no longer taking any transgender patients.  When Alexa asked why, the doctor claimed not to know.  Upset and unsatisfied with the doctor’s response, Alexa decided go to the hospital in person.  At the hospital, the doctor’s assistant simply informed her  that the hospital was not accepting transgender patients.  Although Alexa asked to speak with an administrator, after waiting 45 minutes the doctor’s assistant told her no one would speak with her.  She just repeated that the hospital was no longer accepting transgender patients. This experience caused intense stress and emotional pain, and it triggered anxiety she experienced in the past. The experience has left her with mistrust of the general population particularly with professionals and people who have power.  She remains afraid that our service request will be denied simply because she is transgender.

About

Transgender Law Center (TLC) is the largest national trans-led organization advocating self-determination for all people. Grounded in legal expertise and committed to racial justice, TLC employs a variety of community-driven strategies to keep transgender and gender nonconforming people alive, thriving, and fighting for liberation.

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Transgender Law Center
PO Box 70976
Oakland, CA 94612-0976

phone: 510.587.9696
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