Food chain spotlights LGBT concerns

The National Transgender Discrimination Survey hosted by the National Center for Transgender Equality has obtained results that demonstrate the unfair difficulties transgender people face in the professional world. Twenty-six percent of transgender people lose a job due to bias, 50 percent get harassed on the job, 20 percent are evicted or denied housing and 78 percent of transgender students get harassed or assaulted.

It has gotten to the point that transgender job seekers have to worry about every one of their actions when applying for a job or going to an interview. Some places such as the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education offers guidelines to transgender people to help them fill out job applications. Transgender people constantly debate whether they should out themselves on a cover letter, job application or resume. They wonder if they will be able to put their preferred genders on their health insurance forms or if there are career fields that are more welcoming than others.

These are the types of questions that cisgender people take for granted. For them, the questions are easy to answer because they do not have to second-guess themselves. Transgender people, on the other hand, have to worry all the time. Luckily, many universities try to make public guidelines in order to help them out. They offer tips and other sources to help job hunters find transgender-friendly employers. These sources include the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, the Transgender Job Bank and the Transgender Workplace Law and Diversity Blog.

Even though laws are in place to help protect the LGBT community from discrimination, the laws are not always followed. Many businesses, especially Fortune 500 companies, are intolerant of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. They even send employees to the Out and Equal Workplace Summit, an event hosted by the Out and Equal Workplace Advocates. The organization’s mission statement reads, “To achieve workplace equality for all regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, expression, or characteristics.”

Open-minded companies like this one are not always an option depending on where a person lives, previous work experience and schooling. Members of the LGBT community also might not know anyone who is willing to help them find a job.

Michaela Mendelsohn is a businesswoman, public speaker and transgender woman with over 40 years of leadership experience. She is also a member of the board for The Trevor Project, which gained a lot of media attention in early 2016 when a surge of donations came in after the deaths of several LGBT television show characters. It is the only national organization that provides suicide prevention services to those in crises, serving 100,000 youths every year.

So it comes as no surprise that Mendelsohn is at the forefront of a campaign to help the transgender community. She owns the El Pollo Loco franchise in Southern California and has been employing transgender people at the chain for years. Before she transitioned in 1988, she bought her first El Pollo Loco and by the time she had transitioned in 2004, she owned several. In 2012, she hired her first trans employee, who mentioned how hard finding a job was. "Currently, we have 8 to 10 percent of our total workforce [as] transgender, out of about 150 employees," Mendelsohn mentioned in an interview.

At a conference of the California Restaurant Association, Mendelsohn and several of her colleagues talked about starting a program connecting transgender people who are looking for jobs with restaurants that are looking for workers. It has been successful, despite Mendelsohn’s initial worries about customers treating her employees disrespectfully.

Hopefully this idea gains traction across the country with other big cities collaborating on their own programs to help transgender people find the jobs they need and deserve. It also promotes the development of strong relationships between bosses, customers and workers. With more transgender people visible in the workforce, the stigma they face may decrease as customers start seeing them as hardworking citizens rather than just transgender people.

This is the type of success that galvanizes a revolution. Mendelsohn and her colleagues’ small victories have helped the transgender community in Southern California, but that is just the beginning. Just like how The Trevor Project has grown since its creation in 1988, the nation’s first large-scale employment program for transgender people in California will expand. One day, employers will not even bat an eye when a person says they are transgender.