I’m trying to make sense of so many things right now. While I’m battling some seriously overwhelming grief, it’s anger that keeps bubbling right up to the surface every few hours.
I feel like if this loss doesn’t teach our local community the importance of hiring trans people (especially in the non-profit sector), nothing – and I mean NOTHING – will.
Sure, Diana was openly fighting her way through mental illness and disability. And yes, she was a woman, trans, a sex worker, and gender non-conforming and queer as all hell. She had the odds pretty well stacked against her.
But she was also White. Articulate. Informed. A good writer. Self-Taught. Educated. A quick study. Profoundly insightful. Independent. Addiction-free. Visible. Capable of managing large and complicated projects. Good with her hands, able to build most anything. She also had a reliable car and her own home. As marginalized as she was, she knew she also had a lot of privilege. We talked about privilege, access, and intersectionality all of the time.
If she couldn’t get hired for a job in the last year, even after her mental health improved, and if SHE couldn’t find a way out of sex work, what is it like for other trans folks who DON’T have the level of privilege that Diana did?
We both learned some big lessons in the last year in a half, through various lived experiences and conversations about employment and hiring practices.
Some take-aways from our many conversations around this topic were: Your hiring practices should mirror your politics and be reflective of the population(s) you serve. If you serve the most underserved, you must also do your best to consider hiring the most underserved. You must show up for our community, be open to giving people a chance to learn, to grow, to make mistakes, to be accountable, and to heal from their demons.
And it must go beyond hiring — if you treat employees with kindness and compassion, if you ensure that they are paid equitably and fairly for their time, if you offer them with opportunities for growth and increased pay, and you do your damn best to offer them decent health benefits (because you KNOW they need them), there’s a really good chance that they will be fiercely loyal to you and to your organization’s mission. Adam Smith taught us these lessons in the 1700’s — take care of your employees and they will take even better care of you! Hundreds of years later, we are still making the same mistakes in hiring and employment practices.
If Diana had gotten a job in the last six months, and especially one with benefits, I really do not think she would have taken her life. She was fearful of addressing a bowel blockage (a pretty damn serious health problem, especially eight days in) in large part because she had no insurance, but she was also unmotivated to address it because she felt she had very little to look forward to in 2017 (even if the health issue had been easy to remedy). Her work had dried up and she was literally begging folks for an opportunity to get back into formal sector work so that she would not have to give up her home and four years of stability!
We are only capable of systemic change if we are hiring people who truly understand the level of harm that the system brings about, who have insider access to the population(s) we wish to serve, and who have the lived experience necessary to inform and dictate the direction of our ongoing work. If we are not rallying against the status quo and reforming the system right in our own local bubbles — starting with hiring the real experts, and listening to these folks instead of talking over them — then we are indeed part of the problem.
We have a really long way to go around including trans people, disabled folks, and sex workers in our work. I hope that Diana is somewhere right now shaking her head, rolling up her sleeves, and getting ready to flip some tables in South Florida. I hope that we are ready to join her.