Study: Transgender Discrimination Costs Mass. Millions

by Peter Cassels

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday May 11, 2011

Excluding transgender citizens from its employment non-discrimination laws costs Massachusetts millions of dollars a year, according to a new study.

Trans workers suffering underemployment or loss of employment often result in lost wages and health insurance coverage and housing instability. A study the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law released on Wednesday, May 11, found that the Commonwealth experiences lost tax revenues and higher public assistance costs as a result.

Advocates will likely use the impact on the state's budget as ammunition in pushing for passage of a trans rights bill that is now pending in the Massachusetts Legislature. "The added cost to Massachusetts for public health insurance coverage alone is $3 million annually," Jody Herman, a public policy fellow at the Williams Institute and the report's author, told EDGE.

She added the state also loses millions in income tax revenues.

Herman believes the study is the first of its kind in the United States.

She extrapolated the figures by examining input from Massachusetts respondents who participated in the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey that the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force conducted.

A total of 76 percent of Bay State respondents reported harassment, mistreatment or discrimination in employment.

Based on the U.S. Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey; half of one percent of the Massachusetts population, or about 33,000 residents, identifies as trans.

According to the Williams Institute; if employment discrimination reported in the NTDS survey is consistent with Massachusetts' entire trans population, 6,600 have lost a job, 12,900 were not hired for one and another 5,600 were denied a promotion because of bias.

The survey reports the percentage of trans Bay Staters earning less than $10,000 annually (15 percent) is considerably higher than that of the Commonwealth's overall population (3 percent). Yet respondents reported much higher rates of college and graduate degrees than the U.S. general population, supporting the study's conclusion that the income disparity is due to employment discrimination.

The Williams Institute analysis further reports that trans residents who had lost a job because of discrimination were also evicted from their homes at a much higher rate than those who had not lost a job. These people often have to rely on state-funded housing assistance programs.

Diane DeLap is a 68-year-old trans woman from Wilmington, Mass., who has suffered the economic effects of employment discrimination first hand. She managed a high-tech company's software development group until she was laid off in 2001.

DeLap told EDGE she decided to begin her transition at that time because it is "a lot easier to leave one company, go through transition and get a job in another company."

It took DeLap, who has a distinctively male voice, two and a half years to find another job. "I had more than one situation where I knew I was well-qualified for the position," she explained. "After phone interviews, I would never hear back."

DeLap also had to rely on her wife of 46 years, Jan, for health insurance, but that covered only part of the transition costs. She had to pay the rest of it herself.

One recruiter told DeLap that she was unemployable because she is a trans person. "An hour earlier, she was telling me I had the ideal skills sets and experience," she said, adding the recruiter made those comments before she knew she had transitioned. "None of those things mattered. The only thing that did was the T-word."

DeLap eventually landed a job with a temp agency because of her clerical experience "at about a third of what I was making before."

"Diane's story is very illustrative and demonstrates the human impact very well," said Herman.

A company ultimately hired her full time, but it was sold in 2006. The new owners decided they didn't need DeLap.

Luckily, DeLap spotted an ad on for a position with what is now the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development that could use her unique programming skills. "I told them I was a transgender woman," she explained. "They said it shouldn't make any difference and I got the job."

Now her job is protected. Governor Deval Patrick in February signed an executive order barring discrimination against trans state workers. "I was present at the signing ceremony," said DeLap.

As EDGE previously reported, a bill that would ban gender-based employment discrimination was first introduced in the Massachusetts Legislature in 2007; but it has languished since, despite widespread community support.

The Joint Committee on the Judiciary will hold a public hearing on the bill on June 8. Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, told EDGE members of his organization will sponsor a trans lobby day that will take place at the State House on June 23.

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is [email protected].