By Tanni Deb
Zenobia Triggervinski is transgender and knows what it is like to experience employment discrimination.
“I don’t like coming out to job fairs, just because I feel like sometimes I can be discriminated against,” she said.
Although the 24-year-old has had bad experiences, she decided to give Wednesday’s job fair at the Center on Halsted a chance. That is because this career expo was a bit different; it was LGBT-friendly.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Youth Job Fair was open to anyone searching for work. People 18 and older had the opportunity to meet representatives from approximately 30 companies that support the LGBT community. Various companies exhibited at booths containing information about available positions. Recruiters also accepted resumes from more than 100 potentials employees that attended the event.
A wide range of businesses participated, including large companies like Northern Trust and United Airlines, retailers such as Whole Foods, and social service agencies.
In addition to the fair, job training was provided, as well as instruction on how to prepare for an interview. Topics included in the training included interview skills, resume and cover-letter writing and career planning.
Windy City Times, Chicago House, TransTech, Affinity Community Services and the Center on Halsted sponsored the job fair. Windy City Times is a publication focused on news about the LGBT community. Chicago House is an organization providing supportive programs such as housing and HIV prevention services for people disenfranchised by AIDS, LGBT marginalization, homelessness and gender nonconformity. TransTech is a nonprofit group that provides an apprenticeship to teach job skills, graphic design and web development. Affinity Community Services is a social justice organization that works with the LGBT population to create safe spaces and bridge communities together, while the Center on Halsted is a community center offering programs to secure health and advance LGBT people.
“The premise is that LGBTQ people have more barriers to employment because of discrimination,” said Lex Lawson, the TransWorks coordinator at Chicago House. TransWorks helps advance employment opportunities for transgender individuals.
He said the intention of the job fair was to provide opportunities so people will know that these companies “are going to be supportive, affirming and open.” The businesses in attendance are inclusive workspaces that many people may not be informed about, he said.
“We are building relationships in order for businesses to be more LGBT-affirming because either people are not aware that their company isn’t affirming … or [companies] want to be and they want to take that step,” he explained.
The idea for a LGBT job fair resulted after Windy City Times and other organizations hosted a summit on homeless youth in May. The organizations found that participants, including those from the LGBT community, said they had difficulty finding jobs, according to Tracy Baim, the newspaper’s publisher.
A 2011 study conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality surveyed 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming people. Their research found that 78 percent of respondents experienced at least one form of harassment at work because of their gender identity and 47 percent were discriminated against in hiring, promotion or job retention.
Furthermore, a 2008 General Social Survey, a probability survey representative of the U.S. population, found that 27 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents experienced at least one form of sexual orientation-based discrimination and work, 27 percent experienced workplace harassment and 7 percent lost a job.
Virginia McGathey attended the job fair to recruit people for Viridian, a company educating people about renewable energy sources for homes. She said she came out as a gay person in 1979.
“I’ve been involved in a number of things with the LGBT community and being out myself, I kind of take responsibility for educating people on our differences and how wonderful diversity is,” she said. “To be here and see this [job fair] come to fruition is fantastic.”
“The beauty of the network marketing industry is that it is … purely discrimination free,” she said.
Veronica McGathey, Virginia McGathey’s niece, also attended the event to support the LGBT community and recruit young adults for employment opportunities. She is a distributor with It Works Global, which sells botanical and natural products for healthy living.
“What our company is so great with is that there’s no discrimination,” she said. “People who haven’t been given a chance can really flourish with a company like this.”
Job-seeker Triggervinski said she was surprised to see how many companies are supportive of LGBT at the job fair. Having had experienced discrimination multiple times in the past during the hiring process, she described an instance when she applied for an administrative assistant position. When she turned to leave the office after handing over her application to the company’s associate??, she heard him and his colleague laugh and rip up her application.
“I was a little bit embarrassed,” she said. “I definitely knew that they were discriminating against me, but I didn’t really know what I can do about it. When I left, I was really hurt.”
She said she was glad to see corporations welcoming the gay community.
Another job-seeker, Frenchie Catania, 24, also has had a hard time finding work and is still unemployed but hoped she would find a job at the fair.
“It’s rough, but through determination … it’s not impossible [to find a job], but it is difficult,” she said.
Catania is transgender and said employment discrimination is common among the LGBT community.
“Of course we all [get discriminated against],” she said. “But [companies] are not going to tell us, ‘Oh, you’re not going to be employed because of your sexual orientation.’ They’re going to keep it as, ‘Oh, you weren’t a fit. You didn’t meet the qualifications.’”
She said she has not lost faith and is still diligently pursuing work.
“As long as you have a drive for [finding a job] and you show persistence … nothing is impossible,” she said.