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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Transition Story #3

Continuing the series of case histories of gender transition in the workplace, here is Transition Story #3:

I was hired at a branch location of a Western university in a dual capacity. I have both an MLS and MBA (as well as other advanced degrees), and was placed as the Library Director of the branch library, and assigned a teaching load of 9 hours in the business department. After I had been successfully employed at the university for almost three years, I decided to begin the process of transitioning from male to female.

The administration was very accommodating, both in supportive words and in providing generous leave, which made my transition very easy. I spoke with the Campus Director, my Library Director, and the Vice President of Academic Affairs. All three were helpful, and promised to support me and help in creating a smooth transition. I was pleased, but not surprised, to find that this historically Black university understood issues of diversity. With their encouragement, I took an extended vacation over the Christmas holiday to finalize my transition and heal after surgery before returning to work. When I returned, I conducted myself as the woman I now was, professionally and properly dressed at all times, and afforded myself of the bathroom of my proper gender. Things went extremely well, and I felt that success in both my professional life and my personal life.

So far, so good. However, despite the very pleasant, accommodating words I had heard from the administration, it all went downhill very fast. When a challenge appeared, the nice words were not backed up by real actions. When a problem occurred, my support network evaporated.

Here's how it happened. I went to a professional conference in February. When I returned, I was stunned to learn that a student had circulated a hate-filled petition calling for my removal from campus, and had posted offensive flyers around the campus. Various reasons were cited, but all were related to my transgender identity. The petition received over 100 signatures. I spoke with the Campus Director, and asked for his assistance in removing the offensive flyers. I was stunned to hear him say that the student had a right to freedom of speech, and that he could do nothing. In fact, when other students also complained about these hateful flyers, he went so far as to support the right of the students to pass out the flyers.

The very next day, the Campus Director issued a rule that all faculty and staff must use the bathrooms in the break room, at the other end of the building, and not the student bathrooms across the hall from the library. Surprised by this, I noticed that none of the other faculty were adhering to this policy. When I mentioned this to the Director, he told me in that he could not control the actions of all faculty and staff, but that I would adhere to the policy or be disciplined. I was flabbergasted. I showed him my paperwork, including letters from my surgeon and amended birth certificate. He disregarded them, telling me that I must do as he said.

The petiton-circulating student, encouraged by the administration's open failure to support me, circulated another petition, this one stating that God wished me dead, and expressing the hope that something to this effect should happen. I spoke to several high level administrators, who I was sure would see reason at this point. Instead, they told me my concerns were unwarranted, and to stop causing drama. (Unfortunately, violence against trans people is all too common.) Then, suddenly and surprisingly, my teaching schedule for the summer was changed to the late-night 7:30-10 pm time slot. This meant I would be the last instructor to leave the building, going out into an empty parking lot in a dangerous section of the city.

At this point, I realized it was time to throw in the towel. Management's "support" evaporated in the face of a simple challenge, leaving me alone in an unsafe situation. I managed to secure an interview for a better position elsewhere (though it was about 1000 miles away), and was offered the position. Before the summer session began, I accepted a position as Branch Head of the Architecture Library at a major university on the East Coast. It was quite a hardship, but what could I do? Had the administrators who were charged with my welfare stood up and supported me in the face of mean-spirited prejudice, I think I would have been able to stay and to prosper. When they failed to take decisive action, I was forced to choose between my safety, emotional and physical, and my job.

(If you'd like to see the previous case history in this series, click here for Transition Story #2)

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