Coworkers can be a primary source of harassment, says Tamara Layne, above,...

Coworkers can be a primary source of harassment, says Tamara Layne, above, left, leader of a transgender support group through the LGBT Network. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Employment discrimination remains a pervasive problem for transgender and non-binary New Yorkers despite state efforts toward equity, according to a new report by the State Department of Labor and State Division of Human Rights.

The report represents  the first study on the community's employment experiences, as  the state has historically not tracked economic data related to sexual orientation or gender identity.

“This report provides a glimpse into the work lives of trans, gender non-confirming, and non-binary New Yorkers and charts a path forward on addressing the barriers they face,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement.

In 2022, Hochul signed legislation instructing the labor agency to conduct a study on the employment rate of transgender New Yorkers to help determine if disparities exist.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Trans New Yorkers face pervasive employment discrimination, a new report indicates.
  • Two-thirds of complaints over gender identity rights concerned employment discrimination, the state Division of Human Rights said.  

  • The Department of Labor recommends the state mandate workplace training on engaging with the trans community respectfully.

Workplace discrimination leads to fewer work opportunities and greater levels of poverty for trans residents than their cisgender counterparts, the report found. Cisgender refers to people whose gender identity aligns with the sex registered for them at birth.

Researchers relied heavily on data sets from national Census surveys, public comments, focus groups, and other reports given the lack of in-house economic data on trans and non-binary New Yorkers.

 The report highlighted what advocates have seen for decades, said Aiden Jay Kaplan, assistant director of operations and programs for Pride for Youth (PFY), a division of the Long Island Crisis Center.

“A lot of our clients have avoided traditional employment because they are afraid of being discriminated against,” said Kaplan, who oversees PFY’s transgender service offerings. “They are afraid of someone asking them for documentation which may not align with the name or gender identity they are presenting.”

Across the country, approximately 22.2% of the estimated 1.7 million transgender Americans experienced a loss of employment income in the prior four weeks, compared with 11.5% of the overall U.S. population, according to a December 2022 Household Pulse Survey conducted by the Census Bureau.

Gender identity complaints

According to the Labor Department report,  between 2019 — when the state included gender identity and expression as protected classes under the state Human Rights Law — and October 2023, the Division of Human Rights received more than 1,200 complaints involving gender identity or expression.

Approximately 65% of those complaints were related to employment-based discrimination.

“A lot of it is from coworkers,” said Tamara Layne, who leads a transgender support group through the LGBT Network and is also a field operations manager with Altice.

Layne, a transgender woman who began transitioning publicly in 2018, said while her experience with her employer has largely been good, she often hears about workplace bullying from other trans and non-binary Islanders.

Harassment can include "deadnaming," or calling a transgender person by the name they used prior to transitioning, or using incorrect pronouns to refer to them, Layne said. She said off-color jokes and purposeful misgendering of trans colleagues can be a “reminder of the pain that you’ve experienced,” and often may go unnoticed or even made worse by supervisors.

For its part, the state has enacted a number of policy and legislative changes geared toward creating more opportunities and protections for transgender residents.

In 2022, the governor announced that New Yorkers would have the option of choosing “X” as a gender marker on state IDs and established the Lorena Borjas Transgender and Non-binary Wellness and Equity Fund, which provides funding to organizations that offer critical services to trans, non-conforming, non-binary and intersex state residents.

Fear for safety

Despite those efforts, trans and non-binary New Yorkers who shared their experiences in the report said that discrimination was prevalent whether it be in the application process, onboarding, or once on the job.

Among the report's findings:

  • Trans and non-binary people of color faced greater employment struggles than their white counterparts;
  • There is a genuine fear for safety in the workplace among trans New Yorkers;
  • Discrimination and other employment barriers lead trans individuals to seek self-employment opportunities more often.

David Kilmnick, president of the LGBT Network, a local resource organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender non-conforming Long Islanders, said while legislation is key, it doesn’t change the reality on the ground.

LGBT Network president David Kilmnick says enforcement of antidiscrimination policies...

LGBT Network president David Kilmnick says enforcement of antidiscrimination policies is key. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

“These antidiscrimination policies are important, and we need them, but they need to be more than window dressing,” Kilmnick said. “Policies are only as good as they are enforced or those enforcing them.”

“There has to be a high level of accountability for those who violate those policies and that’s not there right now,” Kilmnick said.

In addition to highlighting the challenges faced by the community in the job market, the report concluded with several policy recommendations for the state.

Among them were advocacy for uniform data collection on gender identity, primarily from the U.S. Census Bureau; providing workforce training programs for trans New Yorkers; mandating workplace  training so employers and employees know how to respectfully engage with trans coworkers and clients, and reducing barriers to obtaining affirming legal identification.

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