Marrisa, pictured, received help from the San Francisco LGBT Center’s Trans Employment Program staff. (Courtesy SF LGBT Center)

On the path to equality, no one should be left behind

A few years ago, Marrisa was living a life in Montana she described as “isolating,” where she had been coping with substance abuse. Determined to find a better life for herself as a transgender woman, she sold her car and moved to San Francisco in search of a supporting queer community that would embrace her.

At first, things didn’t go as planned for Marrisa. She was rejected for jobs because she was transgender, rent and bills piled on, and she was forced to take out a loan to just keep herself afloat.

Full of resolve, Marrisa didn’t give up. She came to the San Francisco LGBT Center and, with the help of our Trans Employment Program staff, she improved her résumé, attended our weekly job club programs and took part in our LGBTQ Career Fairs. She landed a job and now has a successful career, a good living situation, and is on the path to building a life she always envisioned for herself. (To learn more about Marrisa’s story visit www.transemploymentprogram.org.)

Marrisa’s story in not uncommon.

It’s painful to tell you that there are thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people living in the Bay Area who are unemployed, or underemployed and not making a living wage.

While many in our community are prospering, many also face significant challenges rooted in bias and lack of acceptance. Our community is tremendously diverse and homophobia and transphobia intersect with racism, gender bias and economic challenges to keep many on the margins, particularly when seeking employment and economic stability. I’m proud to tell you that the San Francisco LGBT Center is working hard to help them.

Every year, our Economic Development program works with more than 3,000 people helping them to purchase their first home, find affordable housing, improve their credit, manage debt and, for many, find rewarding career opportunities.

Our LGBTQ Employment Program help job seekers improve their résumés, cover letters, online business profiles and interview skills. We also provide opportunities for the community to network and learn new job skills, such as coding and software development.

One of the most important events for our job-seeking clients is our free LGBTQ Career Fair, attended by more than 600 jobseekers and more than 40 Bay Area companies from industries such as technology, banking, hospitality, retail, media and communications, government and transportation, among many others. The next fair is Thursday, Oct. 27, at the San Francisco offices of LinkedIn.

The career fair offers jobseekers the opportunity to connect with employers that value diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Participants meet recruiters, receive career and résumé consultation, and a professional headshot for free.

Recognizing the particular set of biases that transgender people face, in 2007 the San Francisco LGBT Center launched the Trans Employment Program, the first of its kind in the country.
Our Trans Employment Program is the first city-funded program of its kind. The team works to help create inclusive workplaces and jobs for transgender and gender nonconforming (GNC) people. It provides a wide range of services including, employer support, training human resources staff on employment and benefit best practices, advice on navigating being out at work or transitioning on the job, mentoring, and legal services. Earlier this year, the Trans Employment Program also launched the #HireTrans campaign to encourage employers to hire transgender and GNC people.

Marrisa demonstrates the resolve and strength representative of our community’s history. It took incredible courage for her to come out, leave everything behind and move to San Francisco. We are proud that every day we support many like Marrisa, connecting them to the critical resources they need and setting them on their path to thrive.

We can all be part of creating change. If you need work, schedule a consultation with us, attend our programs and take part in the career fair. All of our community services are free! If you are an employer, contact us to take part in the career fair and ask us about our training and volunteer programs. If you’re employed, give back and take affirmative steps to create a safe and supportive work environment for all LGBTQ individuals and people of color.

We have made incredible progress. We have won marriage equality, the right to serve openly in the military, and our brave youth are coming out at younger and in bolder ways than ever before. Let’s make sure that no one, especially the most vulnerable in our communities, get left behind on our path to full racial and socioeconomic equality for all.

Rebecca Rolfe is the executive director of the San Francisco LGBT Center.

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