By Lawrence P. Schaefer |
I am a white, cisgender male. I approach the topic of advocacy for transgender clients from a perspective of privilege, having never experienced the confusion, anguish and social scorn that inevitably accompanies profound doubt and insecurity surrounding one’s gender.
Thankfully, I’ve had the tremendous privilege throughout my career of advocating for numerous transgender clients who have shared much of their struggle with me, as adequately conveying their often brutal experiences in the workplace have been the basis for achieving some measure of justice under the provisions of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which expressly recognizes transgender status as a protected class. These have been among the most courageous clients I’ve had the privilege of representing, and they’ve given me a perspective I’d like to share in connection with the recent publicity about Bruce Jenner’s transition into Caitlyn Jenner.
Unfortunately, much of the reaction to this very public transition has, to me, stemmed from the ingrained sexual stereotyping so many of us indulge, even those with otherwise “good” intentions. From leering comments to how “pretty” she now looks, to weak attempts at humor like, “I wonder if he/she could win the heptathalon now that s/he is a woman,” to thinly veiled expressions of disgust such as, “I don’t care what lead him to this change, wouldn’t it be easier to just remain a man at his age,” I’m amazed at the fundamental lack of sensitivity that Ms. Jenner’s transition has spawned. Comments like these have come from individuals who pride themselves on having an “open mind” on LGBTQ issues. My impulse is to try to give them a glimpse of the true courage these individuals muster to make this change. To give them a glimpse of how much shame and scorn these individuals suffer on the sometimes decades-long path to this decision point.
As an example, I represented a transgender College professor who had been denied tenure after suffering years of abuse and scorn from the College administration and hir (preferred pronoun) Department Chair. This included being denied simple, basic, accommodations like a unisex, private bathroom (when such a facility was available and could readily have been converted for this purpose), to overt statements establishing the fear and discomfort hir colleagues and supervisors felt about the transition Ze (again, the preferred pronoun) was in the process of making (from female to male). The student body, however, embraced, celebrated and even loved my client – Ze was among the most popular, and effective, professors at the College, a true thought leader in every sense of the word. This speaks volumes about the acceptance that the younger generation has for LGBTQ issues, and the hope this should provide for all of us. In this area, we can all learn a great deal from this generation.
And I intend to do my best to channel this acceptance and love, whenever I hear the kinds of comments that have been made about Caitlyn Jenner. But more importantly, I intend for me and the Firm I’m privileged to lead to continue to advocate for these heroic people in the workplace. To make corporate America understand that gender equity embraces every aspect of gender identity. To understand that “discomfort,” unrecognized, often turns so quickly into disparate treatment, which has been described as “the essence” of discrimination by the United States Supreme Court. To help management understand that not only is understanding important on GLBTQ issues, but that true LEADERSHIP is essential. To keep advocating until people think twice before making such statements.
As one of the most recognized plaintiff’s lawyers nationwide, Larry Schaefer has earned the respect of judges and other lawyers for his thorough and aggressive client advocacy in negotiation and litigation. He concentrates his practice representing people who are injured through employment discrimination practices. Larry serves as the firm’s CEO and head of litigation.