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The Australian Equality Party is delighted to introduce guest blogger Michelle Sheppard, an inspiring trans advocate with a deeply affecting account of employment discrimination. You will also find an infographic introducing the AEP’s trans policy.

As confronting as it sounds, transgender people are commonly refused medical care, face difficulties seeking employment, and regularly experience the loss of support from friends and family when transitioning. Most of the time this is due to a lack of education and understanding in the broader community and is usually because of moral or religious beliefs.

To paint you a picture, here’s a statement from a 2014 background paper by Victoria’s GLBTI Health and Wellbeing Ministerial Advisory Committee.

Private Lives 2 reports that only 30 % of trans and gender diverse men, and 32 % of trans and gender diverse women were employed. In contrast, the Tranznation study reports that 41.1 % of participants were in full-time employment. This compares poorly with the general population where 57 % of men across Australia are employed full-time. Trans and gender diverse men and women were also more likely to earn less than men and women in the study, with 78 % of trans and gender diverse men and 71 % of trans and gender diverse women earning less than $1000 a week compared with 50 % of males and 57 % of females in the general population.1

Why am I so passionate about this? I have experienced this struggle first hand. I am a transgender woman (male to female) who’s been on hormone replacement therapy for about two and a half years. At the time that I first tried to move jobs because of discrimination in my workplace, I wasn’t presenting as female full-time. Transition takes a long time and unfortunately your appearance is a bit ‘muddled’ for a while so you live a life of two genders for the first year.

When talking to recruiters I wasn’t sure if I should disclose that I was transgender when applying, because I felt they would unconsciously discriminate even though legally that’s not allowed. Unfortunately, when I was up front about my transition, I was told by recruiters that “being transgender wasn’t a cultural fit” within the organisations for which they were arranging interviews.

There was even an attempt on my part – when I became desperate – to interview presenting as a man, but the interviewers asked the recruiter if I was transgender and the feedback was passed on to “put transition on hold or wait until I had finished my transition before applying for a job”. When I attempted to make further contact with the recruiters there was no response.

I even looked at temp and admin work, just to get a work history and some references, but the only job I was offered was low paid manual work cleaning airplane cabins. I had qualifications and had worked in information technology for eighteen years so it was quite disheartening. I had a solid CV and I had worked hard to rebuild my confidence.

I had encouragement from friends. “No need to discuss at all that you’re transgender! Go for it! You present yourself to these companies as whoever you want! Your transition from male to female won’t hinder you getting the job done!  This transition period shouldn’t dampen your chances at finding employment!” They hadn’t personally experienced discrimination so they couldn’t quite understand my situation, but I appreciated the support anyway.

Eventually I was lucky enough to get a break and was successful seeking full time employment. I was honest and open about my struggle and the employer empathised with my situation. Now I am one of only 20% of Australian transgender women who have full time employment earning more than $1000 a week.

But there are too many transgender people out there who aren’t as fortunate. If you are unemployed you can’t afford good health care – whether that’s for counselling or surgery – which can lead to depression which can make it much harder to find employment. It’s a vicious circle. I’ve tried to raise awareness in the wider community by hosting a radio show, TransPositions, on JOY 94.9 FM and speaking at employment forums.

Most people will judge others at one time or another, and may not even be aware they are doing it. We need to remember that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity at every stage of their life despite how much it challenges our understanding of “normal”.

1Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Health and Wellbeing Ministerial Advisory Committee (2014). Transgender and gender diverse health and wellbeing: Background Paper. Victoria: Department of Health.
Leonard, L., Pitts, M. et al. (2012). Private Lives 2: The second national survey of the health and wellbeing of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Australians. Melbourne: The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, La Trobe University.
OECD (2012). OECD Better Life Index: Australia., retrieved 25 September 2013.
Couch, M., Pitts, M. et al. (2007). Tranznation: A report on the health and wellbeing of transgender people in Australia and New Zealand. Melbourne: The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, La Trobe University.

Michelle Sheppard
Michelle Sheppard is a proud supporter of the Australian Equality Party, a TransWoman, American, over-sharer, and the host of TransPositions on Melbourne's JOY 94.9 FM. She is also an IT Nerd, Makeup Artist, and proud parent of two daughters.