My Fight for Trans Equal Rights

I’m a Technical Partner Coordinator for the Instacart Catalog team, but that’s not where I got my start in the grocery business. My first job was at a small local grocery store, and I returned to a new store that my previous manager opened after a long stint at Walmart, I returned to the new store that my previous manager had opened. It felt like I’d come home to family, which made what happened after hurt all the more.

After leaving Walmart I was at a crisis point in my life. I was directionless and hurting, I was desperate. One night, at my worst moment, I made the decision that to keep going I needed to make efforts to finally transition, something I’d started to attempt in the past, but always got scared and backed out. This time would be different, and I’d be better for it. I started telling friends and family, and soon, the only place left where I wasn’t my authentic self was at work.

By the time I started to tell my co-workers that I planned to transition, I was already spending all my time at home living as a woman. I told my direct manager first, and then the store owner. Both were supportive at the time and encouraging. Just three weeks later, however, I got called into the owner’s office, and he told me that he was going to have to let me go because my transition would hurt his business. I remember one of his comments was “What will mothers with small children think?”

I was broken but still maintained optimism and hope. I reached out to a lawyer friend of mine from High School for advice and he connected me to Lambda Legal. They took my case, seeing it as a way to help set precedent in a very conservative region of the country (at the time I lived in mostly rural South Dakota). We worked on the case for the next two years, using a couple of precedents from other regions to bring it to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC and Lambda Legal argued then that firing me for my gender identity violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by gender in hiring decisions.

In September of 2013, we reached a settlement that included and equal rights training for all employees of the grocery store. Better yet, the terms of the settlement also acted as a precedent for South Dakota, so we’d managed the impossible by scoring an important civil rights win a state where it seemed improbable at best. Thus, my brief 15 minutes of local fame started. Some were inspired by my story, and others were very angry with it. I was on all the local news stations and covered by the front page of the local paper. I received letters from people looking for help, but I also received death threats. Soon after I joined the board of the local LGBT Center, working to make things easier for people like me in a place where it’s far from easy.

My story didn’t end there — a year later I moved to San Francisco, set on building a new life. Since then, my life has blossomed from the darkness, and I’m now employed by a company that is very supportive of my identity and willing to listen when concerns are brought up about equality. I’m happier than I’ve ever been, but others aren’t as lucky. This week marks Trans Awareness week, and it’s a somber time of year where we look at the battles we’ve won, and the fights left to come. This year, a case similar to mine went before the Supreme Court and arguments were heard just last month. It’s a scary time for trans people. We won’t know the decision until next year and until then many of us are holding our breath. Capping off Trans Awareness week every year is the Trans Day of Remembrance, where we look at the brothers and sisters that we lost through the last year. Not everyone is as lucky as I was — and not everyone has a support system to help them make it through. Some threats trans people receive aren’t just threats.

Photo credit Kim Lāthe

So while I’m happy to share my story — and hope that you’ll share it too — I ask that you also take a minute to think about the trans people who aren’t able to share theirs and keep working to make the world a better and more accepting place.

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