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By Nadege Green
Marco Ramirez graduates in about a month with a master’s degree in social work from Florida International University.
Ramirez, 25, is a transgender man and he says when looking for employment there are always unnecessary hurdles.
Gender nonconforming and trans job seekers struggle to find inclusive workplaces.
And Ramirez adds, when he does snag a job, there are always inappropriate questions about his gender identity.
“I would get asked, ‘Oh, how would a client react to you being transgender?’ It was just kind of a coded way of them saying they weren’t comfortable with me being transgender,” he said.
Ramirez recently attended a job fair for the transgender community at Barry University hosted by the Aqua Foundation, a nonprofit that hosts TransCon, an annual conference for the transgender community and allies.
“We know that a lot of trans folk experience a lot of difficulty in the workforce,” said M.J. Castells, a program manager at Aqua Foundation. “It’s hard for them to find jobs and it’s hard for them to keep jobs once they come out on the job.”
Florida doesn’t offer any protections for gay or transgender people in the workplace.
During the 2016 legislative session that just ended, there was a bill in the Senate that would have banned discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, but it didn’t pass.
Darion Arena, one of the job seekers at the fair, said without those protections he’ll always feel a little anxious at work.
“I might be fired just because of my gender identity or because someone doesn’t like that,” said Arena.
Everyone at the job fair was encouraged to wear name tags with their preferred gender pronouns to discourage people from guessing a person’s gender.
Ramirez wore a nametag with his preferred pronouns: he, him and his. He was there with Arena and another friend.
They chatted with Dina Milan, who is with Epic Staffing, a hospitality job placement firm. During their conversation, Millan kept referring to Ramirez as “her” and “she.”
When he walked away, Ramirez said he has to deal with this all the time.
“Unfortunately, it’s something that I’m used to —just being misgendered even when literally your pronouns are right on your nametag,” he said. “It just comes with being transgender in the workplace.”
Millan said she didn’t realize she was calling Ramirez by the wrong pronouns.
“It’s confusing to me to change my vocabulary or the way my brain typically works because I’m not used to speaking with the transgender community,” she said.
Millan said this was the first time she’s ever interacted with a transgender person and she’s quickly learning what not to do.
“Today made me so much more aware and I have to pay a little more attention to myself,” she said.
Ramirez’s friend Arena was also job hunting. Arena has a degree in gaming arts and design with a minor in business and he said he’s looking for an employer who’s interested in his work, not his gender identity.
In a study last year by the LGBT marketing and research agency Out Now, 55 percent of trans people reported they felt that coming out on the job would hurt their growth in a company.
Another study found that almost every trans person polled, 92 percent, had faced discrimination or harassment at work.
Jack Lee Jordan was at the job fair hoping to land a job with Ikea. Jordan is gender nonbinary meaning and does not identify as male or female.
Jordan’s preferred pronouns are they, them, their. Jordan says even when jobs claim to be trans friendly, that’s not always the case.
They remembers their experience with one manager at an interview for a yogurt chain who demanded to know why Jordan’s appearance did not match their name.
“And I was like, ‘OK, I’m transgender,'” Jordan said.
It was a group interview. Jordan didn’t go into that job interview expecting to be outed in front of complete strangers.
“That wasn’t right,” said Jordan.