(Un)Employment and Social Services

Get up-to-date news about our campaigns to fight employment discrimination and secure public funding for trans-positive social services by following our blog with the tags “employment” and/or “social services“!


When hard times hit, marginalized people are usually the first to lose out. The recent economic recession is no exception. Due to discrimination and prejudice, trans people’s ability to find a job with a living wage is already precarious. As jobs become more scarce, employers look for any reason not to hire potential applicants. Because many trans people have difficulty changing their ID documents to reflect their lived gender, we are often “outed” to potential employers who may discreetly refuse to call us back after an interview.

The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that trans people experience…

  • Double the rate of unemployment: Survey respondents experience unemployment at twice the rate of the population as a whole.
  • Near universal harassment on the job: Ninety-seven percent (97%) of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment or mistreatment on the job.
  • Significant losses of jobs and careers: Forty-seven percent (47%) had experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired or denied a promotion.
  • High rates of poverty: Fifteen percent (15%) of transgender people in our sample lived on $10,000 per year or less–double the rate of the general population.
  • Significant housing instability: Nineteen percent (19%) of our sample have been or are homeless, 11% have faced eviction and 26% were forced to seek temporary space.

Making these matters even worse, when local governments start trying to figure out how to balance the budget during times of hardship, social services and anti-poverty measures are often the first to go. Since trans people are more likely to be poor, homeless, un- or underemployed, uninsured, using drugs to cope with living in a hostile world, and have extremely high rates of HIV infection, these safety-net-slashing measures disproportionately affect our communities.

Even existing social services that provide medical attention, food, drug rehabilitation, HIV services, housing and other everyday necessities are often inaccessible for trans people due to insensitivity toward, or sheer ignorance of, trans people’s lives. Without economic resources from public funding, social services are even less likely to provide training for their staff on the needs of trans people. Sadly, while we know that such services are already poorly administered to low-income communities, the city often cuts public funding from social services first, rather than as a last resort.

Meanwhile, the city spends countless tax dollars on massive and ineffective policing programs like the “Prostitution Free Zones,” or on locking up thousands of District residents for nonviolent crimes, many of which stem directly from poverty and related issues. Many trans folks turn to sex work and other “crimes” because of intense stigma, isolation and desperation. Expensive programs like the PFZs do little to deter sex work or improve the living conditions of sex workers, but rather push already-marginalized people further away from being able to support themselves.

We envision a world where, instead of being used to criminalize low-income communities and sex workers, our tax dollars would go toward supporting social services like job training, food stamps and other programs designed to help people going through unemployment and poverty. As trans people, we have much at stake in these issues.

History of Our Campaign

In 2005, we helped add protections for trans people to the D.C. Human Rights Act. Among other things, the regulations in the Act help protect trans people from losing their jobs or facing other forms of discrimination. We continue to work one-on-one with trans folks who have been fired or mistreated in violation of these protections, so that they can see justice.

In 2007, we worked with D.C.’s Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness to finalize and implement a new shelter policy mandating that homeless trans individuals should be treated according to their self-identified gender identity, housed accordingly, protected from harassment or discrimination, and treated with respect. It serves as a guideline for how all other agencies should treat trans clients.

In 2009, DCTC lobbied the City Council to keep funding for vital organizations like Transgender Health Empowerment and other groups that provide housing, referrals, HIV prevention and other services to trans communities. We also partnered with other groups representing a wide variety of interests ranging from labor groups, churches, local businesses and community activists to oppose the budget cuts.

At a Trans Town Hall meeting in 2010, around fifty members of our diverse trans communities gathered and decided that unemployment was the number 1 factor negatively impacting our lives. Unemployment and poor access to social services fuels many of the other problems we work on, such as the high rates of incarceration and the likelihood that we may encounter police violence. DCTC feels that it is absolutely vital to make sure that (1) trans people have access to well-paying jobs and (2) social services are well-funded and well-staffed in order to accommodate and serve trans communities.

Also in 2010, we began taking part in negotiations with the Department of Employment Services on strategies to help trans people get jobs. In 2011, D.C. Mayor Gray promised to implement a jobs program for trans people. We continue to follow up on both of these developments.

Additionally, we continue to offer workshops, resources and information to social services, case managers and other agencies in order to help them better serve trans people.

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