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Applying to jobs is often stressful. But for AJ Kingsbury there’s an extra layer of anxiety — one where “you can feel your insides curl.”
“Usually, when looking at a job application I don’t know if I can put down my preferred name or if I have to use my legal name that I had to change,” said Kingsbury, a 22-year-old North Delaware resident who is trans and uses they/them pronouns. “It’s sort of like, ‘Do I take the leap and cross my fingers that I don’t get penalized somehow or do I use the birth name that I am not a fan of and clearly marks me as one gender that I am not?’”
Kingsbury joined about 30 fellow trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming people from across the Greater Philadelphia region on Tuesday at the inaugural job fair by TransWork, an employment program for job seekers and entrepreneurs in these communities developed by the Independence Business Alliance, Philadelphia’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce. Hosted at William Way LGBT Community Center and organized in partnership with the Philadelphia International Airport, the event focused on helping folks find employment at the travel hub.
“A lot of folks are trans-identified or nonbinary and they have skills, they have work experience, they have degrees, but they’re just not getting employed because they’re trans,” said Marcus Iannozzi, a trans man and Transwork’s founder and co-chair. This is due to “numerous barriers” trans job applicants experience, he added, like documentation issues, criminal histories and “blatant discrimination.”
“People are seeking employment at all points in their own journeys [transitioning] and how they present may change over that time,” added Iannozzi, who also serves on Independence Business Alliance’s board. “There are employers who don't understand … and really don't have to, so they don’t want to.”
The airport, which is an official department of the City of Philadelphia, offers civil service positions, as well as employment at more than 100 private businesses that operate within the facility, including restaurants, FedEx and UPS, said Kathy Padilla, trans woman and deputy director of aviation for diversity and inclusion at Philadelphia International Airport. The airport follows the City's Fair Practices Ordinance, which passed in 1982 to provide nondiscrimination protections to gay and lesbian people in employment, housing and public accommodation. The guideline expanded in 2002 to cover gender identity and expression, largely due to advocacy by Iannozzi and Padilla.
“Government employment has often been the route that many folks who are from disadvantaged communities have to get their first jobs and to maintain careers,” said Padilla, a trans advocate for more than 40 years. “We want to see [trans] people be able to use their talents, contribute and to also support their families, just like everyone else,” she added.
More than 25 percent of trans people have lost a job due to bias, while more than 75 percent have experienced some form of workplace discrimination, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. Trans folks of color report even higher rates of privacy violations, harassment, refusal to hire and physical and sexual violence on the job. This results in extreme levels of poverty and unemployment that lead one in eight trans people to engage in survival sex or drug work, the organization found.
The Philadelphia airport’s collaboration with TransWork is an effort to help “move the needle on poverty,” Padilla said. It also paves the road for other corporations and small businesses to follow suit, she added.
The TransWork initiative, which has been in the works for two years, kicked off last month with a job prep workshop that offered resume and interview prep and info sessions about workplace rights. The TransWork Committee, comprised of trans-identifying Independence Business Alliance members, took its time developing the initiative “to make sure that this wasn’t just another program that had a lot of false promises for the community,” Iannozzi said.
TransWork partners include Pathways to Housing PA, Restructured IT LLC., Integrity Staffing, and Action Wellness. The program is recruiting additional employers who complete onboarding assessments based on a Human Rights Campaign survey that determines the inclusivity of existing policies and training, Iannozi said. TransWork representatives then help the organizations update their language and procedures and learn about the requirements under Philadelphia’s Fair Practice Ordinance.
Iannozi hopes TransWork will partner with the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, trans-identified corporate trainers and independent queer consultants to provide employers with competency training, he added.
South Philadelphia resident Vincent Tjia, 23, attended Tuesday’s job fair looking for a position that would accept his trans identity. He fears for his safety while building a career because of transphobia from employers, Tjia said.
“This is like a sanctuary for trans people,” he said about the event, adding, “You can be any kind of individual and just come and apply for a job. We’re just trying to live our life.”
Trans woman Marissa A., 24, commuted from New Jersey to connect with employers at the event. She holds a health science degree with a minor in public health and works an overnight custodial position, which “gets old really quick.” On Tuesday, Marissa spoke with airport representatives about public health opportunities available at the travel institution.
She said more events like the TransWork job fair are necessary because of inherent biases against trans people in many work environments.
“Even if [workplaces] do have the policies, it could just be on paper and the actual people there are a whole other story,” Marissa told PGN. “That’s the tricky part, which is really one of the hardest things to deal with.”
The TransWork job fair also featured a presentation by legal staff from Mazzoni Center about workplace rights, name changes and updating documentation to secure employment and pass background checks.
Padilla said she hopes job fair attendees learned skills they can use to apply to any City of Philadelphia job, with the airport or otherwise.
“As a department of the city, you have career ladders, you have good professional development opportunities, you’re a member of a union,” she explained. “So if there are any problems, you have support; you're not there by yourself.”
City departments are also covered by Mayor Jim Kenney’s 2013 LGBT Equality Bill, which gives companies tax credits for providing employees insurance coverage for trans-specific health care, including counseling, medications and gender-affirming surgeries, added Padilla, who championed for the legislation. Kenney was a councilmember at the time of passage.
Independence Blue Cross has signed on as the partner for TransWork’s second job fair, which will take place this fall. Plans are also in the works for a resume bank on the TransWork website and additional job prep and training sessions in early 2020.
In the meantime, Iannozzi said he “can’t wait to hear about the first person who gets a job” through TransWork.
“I have never forgotten what ... folks in our community have to face,” he added. “... For every job that somebody gets, it'll just make us keep working harder.”