Transitioning On The Job: Pragmatics and Perspective From a MTF Trade Unionist
How my union helped me transition on the job after 18 years as a male. I met Lenny my union representative at the flag pole before work on July 25, 1996 . I asked him if he had five minutes for me. He said, “Of course, anything for you”. I showed him a professional picture portfolio of myself.
How my union helped me ! He asked, “What is this... are you a transvestite or drag queen or what?” I said, “Lenny, I have a serious problem, I am hoping you can help me. The pictures you see is how I live when I am not at work and how you see me now is how I look when I am working. It is too hard now to go back and forth. Can you help me?”
Lenny said, “I have to go inside and take care of a few things. I will be with you in 30 minutes.” So thirty minutes went by and I met with him … he asked, “How serious are you about this?” I said, “I am very serious. I live as Lisa and work as you see me now.”
Lenny called Labor Relations, “I have a situation here perhaps you can help me with.” Lenny and I went over to the Labor Relations office. We sat down and Lenny made a presentation that included my picture portfolio.
At the conclusion of Lenny’s presentation, the person from Labor Relations said to me, “you are a very valuable employee. We are not going to fire you. How soon can you transition?” I thought I had gone deaf and replied, “I can be back in an hour and a half." The manager said, “That’s not quite what I had in mind.”
A phone call was made to the Director of Operations and the three of us met and sat comfortably with the Labor Relations Representative explaining what was going to transpire on my behalf. The Director said, “We ought to call Steve, his manager, and explain what is going on.”
Steve my manager was called up to the Director’s office and when he walked in we were all sitting waiting for him. He remarked, “Isn’t this a comfortable gathering!” Steve sat down and I handed him the picture portfolio.
He looked through the pictures and said, “This is you?” I said, “Yes it is”. He swallowed hard and then had a big grin on his face and said, “What size shoe do you wear?” I told him and we all had a good chuckle.
It was determined then and there I would take off three days the next week while the colleagues I worked with were presented with sensitivity training as to what was going to happen with me transitioning on the job. Five diversity/sensitivity training sessions were scheduled with the people I would interface with.
Many of my colleagues were shocked and amazed. At the conclusion of each session, Labor Relations said, “We are behind Lisa 100% on this … Anyone teasing or hassling her will be seriously disciplined and or terminated.”
I had my hair done Monday morning and got all of the documentation changed over at the Department of Motor Vehicles, Social Security, new bank accounts, auto registration and auto insurance.
I reported to work on Thursday of the first week in August, 1996 as Lisa for the first time. Lenny my union representative met me in the Labor Relations Office. He did not know or recognize me. I had a new photo I.D. taken, and signed new insurance forms for my name change. Lenny and I walked to my work area and people’s jaws dropped.
I suddenly became the talk of the plant … “gossip is a choice morsel that goes down to the inner most parts of the bowels.” Many comments were filtering back to me from colleagues I worked with.
“It has a white suit on today, and it is wearing the hair in a French Twist!” …
“I must have used the same bathroom Lisa used because the toilet seat was left up!” … (the cleaning crew had just gone through the ladies room)
“Lisa may not be a woman, and he still looks pretty good” …
One day I wore a jean skirt and tank top shirt to work. Labor Relations received a complaint about me being scantily clothed and I should be sent home to change.
Another colleague said, “When are you going to take off the Halloween costume?”
The jokes and snide comments about me on the studio lot were most humiliating, and hearing this from my fellow colleagues caused me great distress.
I was constantly being referred to as he or sir to my face. People took great joy at publicly humiliating me at every opportunity.
My colleagues complained loudly to my manager about not wanting to work with me on projects.
Many folks laughed, smirked in my face and snickered at me in the hallways at work. Complete strangers greeted me in the hallway and said, “Good morning sir.” … Still it was going better than I thought it would.
A team of five people was set up by Labor Relations and Human Resources to help me with my transition. When I shared some of my war stories with them, they would reply, “What did you expect? … suck it up … you can not change how people think about you.” This was the turning point where I realized another approach had to be taken.
The insults and comments were starting to get to me. My work was getting sabotaged. I thought some of these folks could get me fired. I had no shop steward in my work area that I could ask for help.
I decided to became a shop steward after one of my colleagues suggested I would make a great shop steward. After some thought, I took the petition around to be signed. I thought surely the union would be there for me as one of their own.
My first shop stewards meeting was very cordial. People were pleasant. My fellow shop stewards tolerating someone like me, was completely new and foreign to them. As time progressed, and they came to know me, I became acceptable to them as an equal.
My vast broadcast experience proved invaluable in technical conversations. Never once has there been an insulting comment towards me about my personhood in the past seven years.
Two years ago in the fall of 2002, I received an invitation to attend the leadership School for the Pride At Work Los Angeles Chapter, held at the University of California, Los Angeles campus.
Much to my surprise, the Executive Board and President approved my fees to attend this weekend of leadership training. There were about 40 people attending this two day conference. I was the only transgender person attending the Pride At Work Leadership School, and I might add, the only one wearing a dress!
My local union president shortly after attending this leadership school asked me to coordinate the Member’s Assistance Program for the local. For many years, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) District 9, has had a Member's Assistance Program (MAP).
MAP is a union based program aimed towards providing union members help when life's problems cause an adverse affect on their job performance and productivity.
CWA has a vital interest in maintaining a safe, hostile free, healthy workplace for our members, free from the influence of violence, sexual harassment, discrimination, drugs and alcohol.
I took on this new responsibility most earnestly and enrolled in many continuing educational classes in labor studies. This continuing education gave me a pretty good understanding of the challenges most unions face supporting their members.
In June of 2004, I decided to run for Vice President of my local NABET CWA – Local 53 (National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, Communications Workers of America, Local 53). In this race for Vice President, I ran against the incumbent and one other gentleman.
My recent labor studies training gave me a good understanding of the issues our local faced. I ran on the issues, and much to my disbelief, there were no public slanders on my personhood as a transgender woman. I made it to the second run off election receiving many votes. The ballots were counted on August 31, 2004. I am now the Vice President elect of NABET CWA – Local 53. I take office on October 1, 2004
I am an active part of Pride At Work Los Angeles Chapter on the Steering Committee, and I am their web designer. I have received unfailing support and much encouragement for my abilities and the person I am as a transgender woman. I passionately believe in unions because of the nondiscrimination and total support I have received over the past eight years.
Pride At Work is affiliated as the newest constituency group of the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor & Congress of Industrial Organizations). • The purpose of Pride At Work is to mobilize mutual support between the organized Labor Movement and the LGBT Community around organizing for social and economic justice.
We seek full equality for LGBT Workers in their workplaces and unions. • We work towards creating a Labor Movement that cherishes diversity, encourages openness, and ensures safety & dignity. • We aim to educate the LBGT Community about the benefits of union membership for LGBT working people, and to build support and solidarity for the union movement in the LGBT community.
We intend to do this in the spirit of the union movement's historic motto, "An Injury to One is An Injury to All." We oppose all forms of discrimination on the job and in our unions based on sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, religion or political views.
The AFL-CIO strongly urges Congress to pass the "Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)." This important civil rights legislation will promote equal opportunity for all Americans by prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.