June 5, 2009 / 9:42 PM / 10 years ago

Tough times prompt transgender job fair in L.A.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sydney Dupree came to Los Angeles because, as a young male-to-female transsexual, she found Memphis hostile. She came to the transgender job fair because jobs are hard for her to find, even in Los Angeles.

Dupree has been frustrated by discrimination and employers who turn skittish when confronted with documents identifying her as male, both typical reasons why the transgendered struggle to find and keep jobs, especially during a recession.

Until now the 23-year-old, who came to the job fair at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center dressed conservatively in tan slacks, a beige top and heels, has supported herself largely through adult films.

“I did what I had to do to survive,” Dupree said with a shrug. “I had to get out of Memphis. I just left on a bus.”

The fair featured 17 public and private employers willing to reach out to the transgender community, held in the center’s small courtyard after a morning rain cleared.

It was organized as part of the center’s annual Trans-Unity Pride celebration, billed as the nation’s largest, and began with a seminar educating employers on the legal rights of transgendered employees and such tricky issues as restrooms.

“Some questions are not appropriate for the workplace,” Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, instructed a group of managers at the seminar. “For example: ‘Is your surgery complete?’ or ‘Do you have a penis?’”

Drian Juarez, manager of the center’s Transgender Economic Empowerment Project, said young people who are transitioning to another gender can’t get work because they don’t quite “pass” yet and a background check by employers won’t match their identity.

Some end up on the streets, working as prostitutes because they “can’t even get a job at McDonald’s,” Juarez said, even in largely liberal Los Angeles, which considers itself on the vanguard of such issues.

Kimorah London, 20, works at Target and said she has found her bosses very accepting, possibly because “there’s another tranny who works there” and she was upfront about her gender.

“I’m making money and I’m not prostituting myself like a lot of these girls,” London said. “I’d rather have a guaranteed paycheck than a hope and promise of money from some man.”

But Jaklyn Keen, who came to the fair with Dupree, her friend from Memphis, said she began transitioning from male to female about a year ago after leaving a job at a hair salon and hadn’t been able to get work since.

She said a hair salon where she had worked previously refused to hire her back because of the gender change and that her job search had been fruitless.

“The name change has been a pretty big deal,” said Keen, dressed in a black blouse and tan skirt with heels. “It’s a lot of work and (managers) just don’t want to deal with it.”

Editing by Eric Walsh

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