By Greg Hernandez
Thomas Keim showed up at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Transgender Job and Resources Fair on November 8 hoping for better experiences than those he’s had during his year-long job search.
“I have gone to many interviews and as soon as I show up, I can see people get physically uncomfortable,” Keim explained. “I’ve seen people move backward when I reach out to shake their hands.”
Keim began transitioning in 2017 shortly before he started a job at an insurance company which fired him after four months.
“I received an email saying my personality profile no longer met the company’s needs and that I made people uncomfortable,” he said. “So they asked me not to come back anymore.”
“Many transgender and non-binary people remain unemployed because employers are judging them by their gender identities or expressions—and not by their qualifications and skills,” said the Center’s Transgender Economic Empowerment Project (TEEP) Program Manager Eden Anaï Luna. “They hold college degrees, and they are ready to bring their professional and life experiences to the table. I encourage all companies to become a champion of trans and non-binary people by committing to hiring them.”
In all, 46 companies and organizations participated in this year’s job fair.
“It’s important to hire from within the community, and that includes gender expression,” Los Angeles Police Department Officer Cynthia Wada said from behind LAPD’s table at the fair. “I think it’s important that we reflect the community that we serve. So why not come here and provide an opportunity for people?”
While the LAPD has participated in the job fair for many years, it was the first time for Center Theatre Group—which encompasses programming at the Mark Taper Forum, the Ahmanson Theatre, and the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
P.J. Phillips, the group’s senior human resources generalist and recruiter, was greeted with a steady stream of potential applicants throughout the three-hour fair.
“I think my booth is busy because people love theater,” Phillips said. “We can’t call ourselves a creative company unless we are inclusive. We are about diversity and inclusion.”
TEEP, which hosted the event with the City of West Hollywood, provided diversity training for employers as part of the job fair. The training included information on the challenges transgender and non-binary people face in seeking employment and an update on the latest employment laws in California.
“It’s great to revisit the employment laws every year,” said Nicolas Ruhe, a recruiter for UCLA Health. “It comes from a place of passion and I think that’s why we are all here. We are so happy to be here as always. We want people to know that our doors are open and we want a diverse applicant pool.”
The unemployment rate for trans and non-binary people is three times higher than the U.S. average. The unemployment rate among transgender people of color is four times higher. Since 2008, hundreds of people have been hired for jobs because of the fair and companies have met with more than 1,000 potential candidates from the trans and non-binary communities.
More than 100 job seekers attended this year’s fair. In addition to meeting with potential employers, resume review and a mock interview clinic were offered along with hair and make-up for professional headshots.
“At the end of the day, everyone came baring their authentic selves in front of these employers,” said Luna.“Maybe they’ve had a history of rejection and they found acceptance in this wonderful space.”
Zelda Vinciguerra, holding a large stack of resumes, visited practically every booth at the fair looking for a position that could allow him to use his writing, drawing, and math skills.
“I’m one of those people who’s probably best in a low-key, behind-the-scenes sort of thing where I’m not out facing hundreds of strangers,” he said. “I just want to do the work. I’ve had to deal with customers misgendering me which is really, I guess, more on me than them, but it’s hard to deal with. I don’t want to be upset at work so I think something low-key really would be a good fit.”
Gillete, looking for a full-time position in information technology, is tired of working as a freelancer remotely from home. They are looking to be part of an office environment but are being careful.
“When I’m applying for a job, I want to know what kind of culture they have,” Gillete said. “Is there openness? Are they advocates for LGBT equality? I don’t want to go into an interview and have them not be open.”
“I want to work for a company that is inclusive and that will allow me to grow as a professional and as an individual,” they added. “If a company accepts me for who I am, then I will want to stay there longer.”
Jessica Hogan found out about the job fair just three days earlier and was “really, really excited about it.”
“It’s hard being trans and applying for jobs,” Hogan shared. “You worry that you’re already going to have one hurdle to get over before they even look at your resume. And it’s really nice to know that that’s already kind of been taken off the table. I’m in a room where no one is going to judge me except based on my resume and my skills and not on how I present.”
Hogan is currently between jobs. She had worked as a hotel clerk for more than 12 years and was fired a year ago after coming out as trans.
“You want to work for somebody who understands and where there’s a chance for upward mobility,” said Hogan, who sued her former employer. “We have the training, we have the qualifications, we have the degrees. But people just don’t want to talk to us and they don’t want to open the doors. It’s really, really nice that these companies have come here and said, ‘Yes, please. We not only want you, but we’re willing to come look for you.’”
For more information about TEEP, visit lalgbtcenter.org/teep.