The Gilbert Files: I was Fired for Being Trans
Republican state Del. Todd Gilbert said “There has not been a single example of someone who has been discriminated against in public employment” in a House committee meeting this past General Assembly session. As members of the LGBT community living here in Virginia, we tend to disagree with Gilbert’s belief. At the end of that committee hearing, however, Gilbert said if anyone could bring him a case of LGBT discrimination, he’d push the bill forward. Well, this is our list of cases.
Virginia lacks any protections for LGBT workers, so actually trying to prove someone was being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity is legally impossible – If someone is fired over their gender or race there is legal recourse and the discrimination is then proven in court under the states non-discrimination law.
The following stories, hence known as the ‘Gilbert Files’ are allegations of mistreatment that were never proven or legally followed through because there lacks a system for these complaints to be filed. Additionally, these stories can come from folks who are unable, financially or otherwise, to follow through with the process to seek justice after being discriminated against.
If you have a story of yourself being discriminated against, or being fired, for your sexual orientation or gender identity here in Virginia, please email our Editor Brad Kutner at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can keep you anonymous, we just want to share your story.
Blacksburg, VA – The following message was received on July 9th, from Sara Prescott. (Who allowed us to use his name) Sara was fired by his boss after he and his partner were seen holding hands in public.
When Prescott went to human resources, they told him he had been fired because he was under a probationary clause in his work contract, meaning he could be fired at any time, for any reason.
This was the first in a number of events that led to a series of situations for Prescott and his partner. Prescott, according to him, is in a better place now. He still lives with his long-time partner, and while he still hears slurs and insulting comments at work, he doesn’t fear for his job like he has in the past.
Prescott worked as a house keeper for Virginia Tech. He was considered an employee of the state. Laws like SB 701 would have specifically protected him.
Here is the story from Prescott:
My name is Sarah Prescott. I and my partner are both trans men, and most outside our circle see us as lesbians. We’ve been together ten years, and are living in marital bliss. We recently moved to Greensboro, NC, but still have lots of friends in Richmond, and remember some of it very fondly.
When my partner Cat and I first moved in together, we lived in Blacksburg, VA, home of Virginia Tech. I had gotten my first “real” job as a housekeeper on campus. This is a full-time, salaried, state position. My goal was to use the tuition reimbursement benefit to be able to work my way through school.
Things seemed to be going well. I did face some discrimination right off the bat, because I was an educated white person in a very low-education, black and Hispanic only work environment. That alone was strange. But then a coworker saw me outside of work holding hands on the bus with my partner. The very next workday, I was brought into my boss’s office. I was told that this job required certain behavioral standards. It took a long time for me to understand what the problem was, until my boss stood up from her chair and shouted, “People working here, in this position of trust, cannot be seen GRINDING in public.”
Well, work became hell after that, and not long after I was fired. I went to Human Resources and learned that I had no recourse, for two reasons. The first is that there isn’t protection against discrimination for sexual orientation. The second is that state jobs have a contractual agreement that for one whole year, an employee can be fired at any time for any reason, or without a reason at all.
But wait, my story gets better. My partner and I were living on the very edge of survival for several months. We got food out of trash cans. We went to the farmer’s market and picked up scraps. Friends who were in college sent us boxes of easily mailable food like instant oatmeal and crackers. I once dropped a lasagna, and cried because I had wasted food. My partner picked up what he could, and we ate floor lasagna. There are harder times, but these were rough.
In this time, both my partner and I were hired to an on-campus fast food restaurant. The manager who hired us was a lesbian, knew that we were together, and was fine with it. She was shortly fired. The manager after her used our relationship as a method of control. She told us that if one of us ever called out sick, the other one could not, lest we both be fired.
In the 2004 presidential election, our manager scheduled us both from open to close, to prevent us from voting. She was a special lady. Through the efforts of a kind customer we met in line, we were in fact able to get to our polling place JUST in time.
Then I was re-hired by Virginia Tech (let’s face it, they are the only game in town), under a different boss, in a different housekeeping department. I was surprised that I was re-invited to work for the school. Much later, that boss left Virginia Tech, but stayed in contact with me. She one day told me (over a beer), that of course she had contacted my first Virginia Tech boss. She asked, “So, what was wrong with Sarah’s work that you let her go?” My previous boss said that there was nothing wrong with my work–indeed, I was the best on staff (dubious honor, being the best at scrubbing toilets). “So why did you let her go?”
“Well, you didn’t hear it from me, but Sarah had this… FRIEND.” My second Virginia Tech boss had great fun imitating my first boss’s voice on this point.
“Hunh,” said my second boss. “Can her FRIEND sweep?”
These were very hard times in our life together. We have never “gone into the closet,” however. And as we have grown into adults, we have found better ways to live. I still face discrimination at my current job, but it’s smaller–personal digs, crude names. But I’m strong enough that even if I’m fired, I can find ways to survive.
Maybe this story will help you. Maybe it’s too long. Take what you will from it.
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