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Transphobia is still a concern for the queer community

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As she walked into her Las Vegas real estate office in a pair of pumps, a short, tight black skirt that showed all the right curves and a low-cut, black blouse, Amy Johanson was determined to show her colleagues that she was a strong and powerful woman. She cleaned out her desk and attracted stares from everyone.

“You should’ve seen them stare,” Johanson said while laughing slightly as she sipped her quad-shot vanilla latte and shielded her view from the sun. “I was hurting inside so badly, but I wasn’t going to let them see that. I wanted them to see me as the determined woman that I am, even if my body didn’t always reflect how I felt inside.”

Johanson, a petite 37-year-old black and Latina transgender woman, began her transition from male to female just after her 34th birthday.

“I always knew I was different and something was wrong with the way my body looked on the outside. When I began the hormone treatments and finally had enough to pay for my ‘twins,’ I started to finally feel so unbelievably happy,” she said as she looked down at her body, and shook her head, almost in disbelief that it belonged to her. “But my former employer wasn’t so excited about all the sudden changes to my appearance.”

No one verbally or physically assaulted her at work. No one told her what she was doing was immoral or that God disapproved. But no one invited her for drinks after work anymore. Her invitation to the holiday party was suspiciously absent and she quickly became persona non grata.

“My work ethic only improved after my transition. I did everything I could to be the best possible employee. I had too many medical bills and expenses to lose my job. But when my annual review came around, I was put on suspension,” Johanson said. “It’s impossible to describe the absolute shame and embarrassment I felt as they told me I would be fired soon if I didn’t improve. But they couldn’t tell me anything I needed to do. We all knew that I was being fired because of my transition.”

Three weeks later, Johanson lost her job. After searching unsuccessfully for six months, she moved in with a cousin in Salt Lake City. Eventually, Johanson found a job and now shares a studio apartment with Wilcox, her Dachshund.

Johanson said she enjoys her low-profile life and is happy to be able to pay her bills, but the fear of losing her job because of her identity still haunts her. And she’s not alone in that fear. According to a study released by Equality Utah and the Williams Institute at UCLA, 67 percent of transgender people in Utah have faced discrimination in the workplace, 37 percent fear discrimination on a daily basis and 20 percent said they experience transphobia or harassment daily.

Nearly one-third of openly transgender people in the United States make less than $10,000 a year and 29 percent are unemployed, according to a study conducted by the Washington Transgender Needs Assessment.

While there are some legal protections for trans and gender non-conforming people, many don’t know how to access the resources or feel too ashamed, said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

“The situation can be pretty dire,” Keisling said. “Things are getting better, but there is still so much room for improvement.”

Johanson doesn’t want to be an activist. She doesn’t want to log complaints against her employer and she doesn’t want to be seen as a martyr.

“I just want people to treat me with the respect I deserve. I just like to mind my own business and do my own thing,” she said.

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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