I Must Pay My Good Fortune Forward

My name is Kaleb, and I am a man struggling with several disabilities. I work a full-time job; I enjoy painting, reading, and writing; and I am passionate about helping others who need it the most.

I am also transgender.

As I approach one full year since I began the process of transition by beginning hormone therapy, I have a lot to be thankful for. The people in my life have been overwhelmingly accepting and kind, while still treating me as they always have. Thanks to Bender and the Careers2B program, I have the work experience and confidence I need to prove that I am a valuable, contributing employee and full participant in society.

And thanks to my previous work as a Bender recruiter, I realize that people with disabilities and members of the LGBT+ community need to be allies to one another in our fight for gainful employment and civil rights equality.

LGBT+ students and students with disabilities both face an increased risk of bullying when compared to their non-LGBT+, non-disabled peers. Bullying negatively impacts self-image, undermining feelings of self-worth and increasing feelings of not belonging for both communities.

7 out of 10 individuals with disabilities are either unemployed or underemployed, and according to the 2015 US Trans Survey, transgender individuals are three times as likely to experience unemployment (if you are a transgender person of color, it goes up to four times as likely) compared to non-LGBT+ peers. As I have discovered through my experience with Bender, employment can become the great equalizer. It is only through establishing equality in the ability to earn a competitive wage that people have the same opportunities to participate fully in American society. Whether it is buying a home or a new car, planning vacations or going out to dinner, or even supporting a family, competitive employment is the gatekeeper to pursuing the American Dream. 

Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, actually began to be enforced on September 24th, 2013. Today, OFCCP is conducting Focused Reviews with employers to ensure actions are being taken by federal contractors to comply with these disability affirmative action regulations. In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) was approved by Congress amending the 1990 definition of disability found in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This amendment was largely in response to US Supreme Court rulings limiting the definition of disability rather than being inclusive as was the original intent of those who championed the ADA. The ADAAA provided clarity to the original definition of disability in order to protect the rights of people with disabilities. 

Today the LGBT+ community is facing a similar situation as arguments are being presented to determine if sexual orientation and gender identity are protected by legislation preventing discrimination based on sex. On October 8th, the US Supreme Court will accept arguments regarding whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBT+ individuals from employment discrimination. According to an article in the New York Times the presentation of the three cases will indicate how the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority will approach LGBT+ rights. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has stated that its interpretation of Title VII guarantees the protections, but many federal courts have interpreted Title VII to be exclusive of discrimination of the LGBT+ community. Recently though, cases presented in New York and Chicago, have found that discrimination against the LGBT+ community is a form of sex discrimination. 

Both people with disabilities and LGBT+ people struggle with public prejudice of what they should be able to do, or who they should be. We both struggle with the burden of being “othered.” Regardless of the individual talents and abilities of members of these communities, stigma continues to play a large role in how people are treated and limits their opportunities for success. As we come to understand the shared journey for these two communities, it is important to remember we have the same goal of civil rights equality. Together, as allies, we can support each other’s journeys and present a united front against discrimination.

As the seasons of gratitude and giving start creeping upon us, I am reminded of how thankful I am that Bender acknowledges, embraces, and accepts every part of me, and gave me the confidence and skills needed to support myself. And I am reminded once again that I must pay my good fortune forward by being a voice for those who still struggle to be seen for who they are, not what they are, and to be living proof that talent should be the only discriminator.

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