re: Calling Me Out on Anti-Discrimination Laws

This is my response from someone who thinks my previous blog is dead wrong. Here's what they had to say

*sigh*...Jasmine, hon...I applaud your "standing up" for what you see as right. But *I* have to disagree with you on several points.

First off, legal or political grandstanding aside, I would guess that, in fact, Danielle *was* fired for being transgendered. Does this company employ women? (...As the columnist pointed out; yes, they do.) Are any women employed in the position that Danielle held? We don't know that; and it is cogent to the legal ramifications. However, if they have *ever* employed a female (GG, TG, or Martian Amazon) in such a position (or one of a similar pay grade, or level of responsibility), the case falls apart. It's *very* difficult to assess the ramifications of this court decision, without the facts; yet you (*and* Mr. Harsanyi both) make blithe assumptions based simply on the verdict. We don't know what evidence was presented, or the levels of competence of the Counsels for the Defense and/or Prosecution. It is possible that Lead Counsel for the Defense had an emergency appendectomy, and the "second chair" screwed up the case. Or not. Is there going to be an appeal? This is also an indicitve point.

My second point involves Mr. Harsanyi's assertion that anyone who hires a TG person, and then fires them, encounters a very real risk of being sued...a point that you categorically deny. Hon, I work for the Federal Government. I have been directly involved in "prejudice" charges involving hiring; and have had the opportunity to observe several other such charges, for terminations, and disciplinary actions. I also happen to be a member of the TG community, Let me be *very* clear on this; TG's are like *everyone* else. *Some* are decent, honest, honorable, and hard-working. *Others* are deceitful, lazy, and manipulative. Have you ever heard the term "playing the Race card"? ...well, it works the same way for us. The columnist has a valid point; and a potential employer has a valid concern. In my experience (and talking to Federal HR personnel, *and* Union members, as well); the observation is that about 70% of such "prejudice" claims are patently fraudulent. But the plaintiff fires from an open choke, and hopes to hit *something*...an overly sympathetic judge, a supervisor or manager who doesn't want the hassle of the endless mediations; or a mistake in the proceedings, that will give them a foot in the door. Such people often file claims over and over, for every possible slight, until they get what they want. I would also point out that, having been a member of the TG community for several years, and hearing many such discussions; I have observed that a lot of "disadvantaged" people or groups (of which we are only one) appear to *enjoy* being "down-trodden"...it makes them Special. When they are treated like everyone else (as they are constantly demanding), all of a sudden it's "unfair.and illegal."

My third point is the basic concept of Personal Rights...and that is that *your* rights end where *mine* (or anyone else's) begin. Mr. Harsanyi pointed this out obliquely in his column. If I believe that keeping animals penned up is cruelty; do I have the right to run around, releasing all the dogs in town from their yards? If I believed in nudity; don't I have the right to walk down the street naked? *shrug*...some would say that there is a world of difference between dressing in clothing of the "opposite" gender, and walking around with your Tallywhacker (or your Bewbies) hanging out. Others would say that it's exactly the same thing. Who is right? That is a delicate decision, for the courts to decide. And courts are swayed by public opinion.

SO....until-and-unless a majority of the American (or at least the State) population recognise (and *accept*) TGs and their lifestyle as mainstream; it will continue to be a point of contention. I am glad that there is discussion on this subject; it makes the topic more accessible to mainstream America. But it is *not* as plain and obvious as you make it out. Want to change it? Then go downtown to your local Redneck bar, and convince 'em. *Shrug*...Change is a slow process.

We would *all* do better with a bit of tolerance. Would we be better of *without* the Carrie Nation's, the Rosa Parks'es, the Dr King's? ...probably not. But I think that your reaction was way out of proportion to what appeared (to me) to be a fairly well-balanced opinion article. You are entitled to your opinion, but Mr Harsanyi is entitled to his, as well; and I don't think that it was terribly out-of-line.

And that's *my* opnion...worth what you paid for it.


(anyone want this soapbox?...I think I'm done with it...)

Below is my response

I realise there is an element of realism missing from my opinion, but realism won't help advance our cause. Idealistic thinking is what causes political progress. The arguments must be polarized. If we all went around being realistic all the time, there wouldn't be any need for the democratic process... we would all be in agreement already since there is only one reality.

This is a case of someone being treated correctly by the law, and someone else complaining about it due to his irrational fears and ignorance of the situation. That is what really burns me up - that people irrationally fear us because they choose to be ignorant about the situation. I am aware that people file frivoulous lawsuits, but that's not the situation here, and the point is that having the law doesn't cause the cases. The immoral people (including the lawyers) who file the lawsuits are the problem, not the law. The problem of unfounded lawsuits is not specific to the discrimination issue, and it really needs to be considered separately. Every new law could potentially increase the amount of unfounded lawsuits. That factor can not be considered when examining the validity of a new law.

The article implies that Danielle somehow received 'special treatment' because she is transgender, but the ruling makes it perfectly clear that this is not the case. We don't need to be privy to every iota of the evidence to understand that. People need to understand that while there are good reasons for firing employees, there are also ILLEGAL reasons for doing it, and those reasons are illegal no matter who the person is - even if they are not from a marginalized minority group. This case would have been an illegal firing regardless of the transgender issue. That's an important point because it means that this person wasn't given any special treatment.

I don't think anyone should be given special treatment, but people should be restrained, legally, from acting on their hate. That is the purpose of anti-discrimination laws in the first place, not to provide 'special rights' to any group, but to ensure the same rights for groups that are targetted unfairly by the majority. If this person was fired for being a poor employee, then the case would have gone the other way. I'm fairly confident in that, regardless of your observations. As a manager for Domino's Pizza, I have been through the frivoulous lawsuit before. It was a simple matter for us to show documentaion that the employee was fired for being consistently late (time cards), being rude (customer complaints), and breaking the law (theft of company property, with police reports). That stuff didn't keep the person from whining to the court about fired for being Russian, but the company was acting legally and we could prove it. The case was a minor pain in the ass for us, but there was absolutely no chance of it going the wrong way.

In the vast majority of cases employers are not that responsible. At that point, it's one word against another, because we can't read someone's mind and figure out the real reasons for the firing. There were no unbiased observers of the situation, so we are left to look at the evidence. In most legal cases, it is possible to prove that a crime occured and who committed it, but in discrimination cases, it's usually not that explicit. In this case, the court found that Danielle was a good employee, and should not have been fired due to job performance. They also found that the company had no grounds for randomly downsizing its workforce - that the business is healthy and not failing. When the court looked at the possible reasons for firing this person, every reason was eliminated except one. Therefore, we are forced to assume that the remaining reason is the correct one, unless it can also be proven false. This is not the way we normally prove criminal intent in our court system, leaving the whole thing open to interpretation. It's not clear why this person was fired, and it never will be. The legal system is not perfect, but that doesn't mean it's flawed either. In this case, things probably went the way they are supposed to.

I am insulted by the article's suggestion that, regardless of employment-related factors, keeping your job may be as easy as putting on a dress. People who transition at work don't do it to keep their jobs. Many of us delay our transitions because we fear firing, or because we respect our co-workers and don't want to disrupt company operations. We take this decision seriously. Current laws on the books in some counties in Colorado require documentation of transgender status if you wish to 'crossdress' at work. Without that documentation, you are violating the dress code, and should be let go. These laws provide conscientious transgender people who are honest about their transitions with a vehicle for ensuring that their transition doesn't result in unfair treatment. We need laws like that on a national scale. This is the same as anti-discrimination laws regarding races, disabilities and so on.

The vast majority of people think transitioning is a choice that a person doesn't have to make, and therefore, if they make that choice, they deserve whatever smack-down society wants to throw at them. The public needs to realize that transitioning, for many of us, is no more a choice than being African, Mexican, or a paraplegic. It's something we have to do, and we don't deserve to get fired for it, any more than a Mexican person deserves to get fired for being born that way. Editorial articles that ignore this FACT are irresponsible, and serve no other purpose than to hurt our community by reinforcing these false assumptions in the collective public mind.

I could go on forever about this, but the point is, regardless of the specifics of this case, we don't need articles in the newspaper spreading lies and distrust about our community. If the editorial opinion was based on the truth, and the reporter still had the same conclusion, then I wouldn't have a leg to stand on, but this argument has been attempted before. Read that article again and replace every instance of 'transgender' with 'african', and tell me that's not irresponsible journalism. These are the same arguments that people were making years ago about the racial discrimination problem. The argument is as wrong now as it was then.


PS: If the employer had said "we fired her because we are in the construction business and it's bad for our reputation to have transsexual people working here. Customers won't call us for fear that 'the freak' will show up to do the job, and they don't want that in their business," then they would have won the case, but instead they tried to show that they had a business-related reason, and they failed. For more insight into that technicality, contrast "Ulane vs. Eastern Airlines" (court found that transgender people ARE protected from sex discrimination under Title VII) and "Holloway vs. Arthur Andersen" where the court found that:

"Transsexuals claiming discrimination because of their sex, male or female, would clearly state a cause of action under Title VII. Holloway has not claimed to have been treated discriminatorily because she is male or female, but rather because she is a transsexual who chose to change her sex. This type of claim is not actionable under Title VII and is certainly not in violation of the doctrines of Due Process and Equal Protection."


Denver Post Held Hostage by Columnist?

This is a letter I sent to the editor of the Denver Post regarding this article (opens in a new window).

As a transgender American and concerned citizen, I am extremely frightened by David Harsanyi's opinion regarding the case of Danielle Cornwell. It is even more frightening that his ignorance on this subject is shared by many of my fellow Americans. He has no understanding of this case, the transgender condition, or the purpose and result of anti-discrimination laws. He makes three main points in his article: that Danielle Cornwell's case was about a person being fired for being transgender; that the transgender condition is as simple as putting on a dress; and that protecting transgender people would lead to problems. He is wrong on all three points, and here's why.

First, Danielle Cornwall's ruling was not based on her transgender status. It was based solely on the fact that she is a woman. It is clear from the court ruling that the case was decided on the basis of Danielle's gender being female in the eyes of the law. This ruling doesn't add anything to constitutional law, and it doesn't re-interpret the existing law. David wrote, "clearly she wasn't fired for being a woman." This isn't the case and the judge's ruling is clear on that. Additionally, the employer denied firing her for being transgender (which is legal and would have cleared them), but they had no other substantial reason for firing her.

Several times in the article, David implies that Danielle's transgender nature is simply a case of a person wanting to crossdress at work. He states that Danielle was previously a man, and that recently he informed his employer "that he was going to begin wearing women's clothing." In the next sentence he mentions that she is scheduled for sexual reassignment surgery, as if it's almost parenthetical. It's not. This statement is a key point, and David completely missed the value of it. Being transgender is not the same as crossdressing. Crossdressing is clearly not allowed in the workplace, and an employer's right to enforce gender-different dress codes has been defended time and again in the courts. Danielle's case is quite different. She is transsexual, and has no doubt endured a torturous journey because of it. Transitioning can take years and transitioning on the job is usually one of the last steps. The decision to transition is not taken lightly, and I'm insulted by David's suggestion that it is. Standards of care for transgender people require a period of full-time living in the person's chosen gender before they can be approved for surgery (usually one year). Remaining gainfully employed during this period is crucial, unless David would prefer to support us on welfare while we undergo this necessary process.

He goes on to say "If a company hires a transgender person, they know that firing them - for any reason - will probably lead to legal action." History tells us this is not the case. Companies regularly hire people of minority races, the disabled, and women without fear of being "held hostage" if they wish to fire the person. I'm pretty sure David doesn't think we should repeal all laws protecting classes of people from employment discrimination. We as a society have decided that explicit discrimination is legally wrong. The case with tall and short people is not discrimination, as the cited article makes perfectly clear, if you read it. David claims that Danielle was clearly not fired for being a woman. OK, if she was fired for being transgender, then doesn't that make it perfectly clear that transgender people do need protection under the law? Anti-discrimination laws serve the purpose of making sure people aren't fired for unfair reasons. Is David suggesting that firing someone for being transgender is fair? He clearly states that he respects our right to exist this way, so why shouldn't we be protected?

Enforcement of equal rights is not called dependence, David. It's called freedom, and I have a deep respect for that concept. America is the flagship of Freedom in the world, and we don't have any laws protecting the transgendered, which puts us woefully behind the rest of the world, including Canada, most of Europe, Japan, and even IRAN! The UN recently reprimanded the United States for being behind on these laws, and I'm embarrassed to be living in a place that the rest of the world sees as a backward country, but I love America and I think it's the greatest country in the world. As long as I'm here, I'm going to fight for fair and equal treatment for all of us, and so should you.

Jasmine Danielle Adamson
Lakewood, CO


IT Job Market Sucks Rocks!

Recently in the IT job market there has been a major dry spell. Economics tells us that IT workers are in demand, but when we look for work, we see something contradictory. What is going on?

I think what happened is actually that workers are facing a different type of competition than we are used to in the IT field. It used to be based entirely on coding ability, and hiring decision-makers had some handle on how to judge coding ability. Now, our competition is a world of barely-trained hacks, who are capable of listing buzzwords on their resumes, but barely fulfill the job requirements. When I'm requiring 70K and some hack is only requiring 50K, the managers think they are getting a better deal going with the lower-quality applicant. They know they will get lower-quality work, but they don't care.

Thus, we (skilled IT people) are competing with people who normally wouldn't be competetive with us. Hiring managers don't know what to do... they aren't techies and they don't understand how to determine the skill level of a programmer. Furthermore, HR people don't have any ability to look at project requirements and turn those into job requirements. The best they can do is copy and paste all the acronyms from the project requirements to their Monster advert. HR is seriously misunderstanding the process of hiring IT people. When you compound that situation with an enourmous number of hacks out there, an obviously tricky situation arises.

The solution is this: get developers involved in the hiring process! In 5 minutes I can make a determination about coding ability that an HR manager may never be able to make. I can also design tests that focus on the areas which are important to us. That is, rather than asking for a certification for all of the .NET Framework, and hoping that will cover what we need, I create a test to gauge the applicant's ability with, for example, SQL Stored Procedures and hand coding HTML. See... I know that I don't really need an expert on .Net, but rather someone who can do the specific things we need for this specific project. Sharp developers who come into that situation will be able to expand their abilities and help with other projects eventually, but if what we need right now is someone with a specific set of abilities, all to often the HR department is ignoring that and looking for an applicant with skills that can be broken down nicely into acronyms and buzzwords.

So to sum that all up, there's 3 main things messing up the IT job market right now:

1. There are a huge number of hacks and wannabes out there competing for the jobs. This includes hacks and wannabes from India and other far-off places.

2. HR people can't tell the hacks from the hackers. The usual techniques to identify good candidates don't work for IT, and HR can't seem to figure that out.

3. The divide between developers and the rest of the company is almost anti-social, so developers are often not involved in the hiring process. This makes it even more difficult for HR to spot the good candidates.

To solve these issues there's a few things I think you can do to compete better in the job market:

1. Make sure your skills are up to date, and you can prove it. That means, have a web site, an application, a game, something YOU developed or managed that you can put in the interviewers hands and show them. Be ready for coding tests or physical tests of your ability. If an employer doesn't do this, I think they are asking for trouble. Coders and Administrators can easily be tested on their abilities, and a good test result should be 50% or more of the hiring decision. I'm not talkin about certification-style tests here, I'm talking about actually having the person sit down and write some code, or perform some task where their performance can be measured. My HTML test covers only the ability to hand-code HTML. It has one question and a million answers, but the applicant either passes or fails the points we are judging on. Certifications are worthless in this regard, because they tend to measure knowledge, rather than ability. I've worked with more than a few developers who had certifications in things they still didn't know how to do.

2. Improve your image! This is particularly important for women. I know it seems like a trivial thing and that hiring decisions should be based on ability rather than fashion, but the reality is, we live in a world that is very superficial. IT people are already seen as an anti-social bunch, and the common appearance-related choices that IT folks tend to make, are part of the reason for that. I worked with a guy once who was an absolute genius, but was impossible to be around. He smelled funny, had gobs of unruly facial hair, had some wierd religious notions that he wasn't discrete about, and other problems. Genius ability didn't matter too much for this guy when it came to who to cut from the team. You don't have to look like a magazine cover, but shower, shave and keep your religious icons tucked in if you must wear them. For women, you need to be dressed nicely for the interview, but can tone it down after hire. Do something with your hair and makeup which is not excessive but professional. If you don't know how to use makeup (as is the case with many geek chix), learn to wear mascara and lip gloss at the least. I know it sounds trivial, but trust me, it will make a huge difference in how people react to you.

3. Improve your social skills. I have the job I have today because I was the only applicant capable of having a conversation. I was lucky because the CEO and I both have a love of race cars, so that led to a natural conversation topic, but if you're a cold rock, people are not going to want to work with you. In this area, you are overcoming a stereotype. HR people expect IT folks to be anti-social, so the cards are stacked against you. HR people also expect IT applicants to be dishonest about their skills (see #1). It is important that you come across as a friendly and trustworthy person. One trick I use to accomplish this is to talk openly about my shortcomings. I mention skills I would like to learn and things I would like to improve on, and make it clear that I actually do intend to improve in those areas. This makes me seem more human and more honest I think. Avoid seeming arrogant at all costs! I made this mistake once when I told an interviewer I didn't have the skill he was asking for, but I could learn it over the weekend. The statement was probably true, but came across as me being an arrogant bitch. This will hurt a male applicant, but kill a woman. Having good social skills puts you miles ahead of the other applicants. I had a boss actually tell me that was the reason I got the job, instead of a guy with a Ph.D. who also applied. He said he 'enjoyed the interview' with me a lot more than with the guy, who couldn't converse in English with a normal human being.

4. If you are a woman, be aware of the double-standard. I find that female interviewers can be even more judgemental in this respect than the men. That is, female HR people are MORE prejudiced against women, than their male counterparts. I think also that men tend to see an attractive woman as a potential positive addition to the environment, while women are mostly indifferent about that aspect. Men like to have lovely women around. It's just a fact of life. If you're friendly and attractive, without going over the top, you will make headway with the men. I know this seems sexist, and it is, but it's realistic also. Attractive women have an advantage with male recruiters. However, if you cross the line from 'attractive' to 'sexy'... your hosed. Don't go there. Be professional... think Hillary Clinton. Women will face suspicion about their skills to a greater degree than men, so number 1 above is even more important for women.

I hope this helps folks out there. I had a hard time finding a position until I realised and accepted some of these ideas. A little luck is nice too. Of course all the normal job-hunting things apply, but these additional issues are making it harder for IT people to compete in the job market.

Happy Hunting!

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