The Trump administration recently made workplaces even more dangerous for trans employees by requesting the Supreme Court legalize employment discrimination against LGBT people.
Employers are already discriminating against trans people, even without the Justice Department’s permission. In the last year, one in four trans people report being fired, denied a promotion, or not hired for a job due to their gender. I know personally: the first time I came out at work, I was in California, which has the toughest employment protections for trans people in the nation. I was still forced out of my job within six months.
And as a result of the lack of protections as well as harsh cultural stigma, 29 percent of us live in poverty. The situation is already dire and stopping the Trump administration’s latest attack is still not enough for the trans community. Because protecting the few rights we already have doesn’t mean workplace inclusion and economic security. Only policies that meet our complex needs can allow us to be ourselves whether at work or beyond.
That’s why in addition to advocating for housing and job security, I’m a trans activist fighting for paid family and medical leave — one of the policies that is urgently needed for the trans community.
Paid medical leave is a policy that allows everyone to access the healthcare and recovery time they need. But trans people like me face daunting, often impossible, hurdles for basic medical care, a medical provider who understands our needs, a job that supports our ability to cover co-pays, and time off to heal. As a result, health care is out of reach for the majority of us.
For the trans community, medical leave in the workplace allows us to secure medically necessary procedures and be well. For example, gender affirming surgeries are an essential part of health care for many trans people. In 2017, there was a 20 percent increase in demand for these procedures due to ACA protections for trans health care.
The first time I had a gender-affirming surgery I was in the queer bastation of the Bay Area, but at a workplace that didn’t have paid leave. I learned that just because people accept who you are doesn’t mean that they provide the policies you need. En lieu of a paid leave program provided by my employer or the federal government, I did what many trans people do to make ends meet, I turned to crowdfunding.
Asking people for money is scary and degrading. It’s embarrassing in a culture that glorifies self-reliance to admit that you need help to get by and people close to you will openly question whether or not you need it.
Worse still, this patchwork system privileges the already privileged. I raised the money I needed because I have a wide social network of people in the middle class and above. Not everyone is so fortunate. Part of the discrimination that trans people face is how we are socially isolated. Those who are most alone and most in need of support are also the people least likely to be able to successfully crowdfund.
I just underwent a second gender-affirming surgery and came back from six weeks of fully paid leave. During my recent recovery, I was not on “vacation” (like some politicians will have you believe). My body was doing the difficult, exhausting, and excruciating work of healing. I needed to spend over four hours a day actively caring for my surgical site and spent the rest of the time in a painful daze. Work wasn’t possible. For those who need surgery, taking this time to heal isn’t negotiable.
Our government already crowdfunds to provide people this kind of support when they need it: it’s called taxes. Our elected leaders can and must create a federal paid family and medical leave program that supports the most vulnerable.
I refuse to allow the latest memo or tweet to dictate the conversation about my humanity or community. Rather than be dragged into a fight about whether I exist, I alongside my trans community are here to fight for workplaces, healthcare, and nation where we can thrive not just survive. Trans people aren’t going anywhere. We’re here to live our fullest, vibrant lives.
BRI BARNETT is the Development Manager for Paid Leave for the U.S., the nation's leading nonprofit solely dedicated to fighting and winning paid family leave for everyone in the U.S. To learn more visit paidleave.us