As I hit the road for this year's annual Creating Change conference, I go with no plans for moderating a panel or doing a training. Instead, Renna Communications has an even greater responsibility and challenge. We will be helping with the release of a groundbreaking survey, the first of its size and scope about the real lives of transgender people: "Injustice at Every Turn." Like a lot of research we see about LGBT people, the results are not surprising, but they are shocking and vital to advocates. Look for it tomorrow on TheTaskForce.org.
One of the most important and moving parts of my work is to help get the real stories of transgender people out there - stories of struggle and resilience, of hate and hope - and I consider it a great privilege and responsibility. What follows is one of them - but you will be seeing many more as this survey begins to hit the internet, media and community.
Meet Jane Ireland, a new friend, a new hero and a transgender woman with a story to tell.
Like many other trans people, I struggled for years with my identity. From a young age, I felt that I wasn't living in the right body. But I was always afraid that my family, my friends, and my church would never allow me to live as the woman I was. So I suppressed those emotions for years, even marrying a woman who remains a dear friend and having three children with her.
But there came a point when I could no longer maintain my façade of maleness. Once I quit denying I was a member of the trans community, I availed myself of the plethora of excellent resources to map my M2F transition - documentaries, medical anthologies, autobiographies, step-by-step guides. I quickly realized that one common denominator in our transitions was that they don't unfold as we expect, and mine proved no exception.
I held a contracting IT project management job, at which I thought I had enough favor that I could safely come out to the president of a medium-sized call center company, despite its Christian ministry clients. But I was wrong. My productive three-year independent contractor assignment was terminated within days.
In the weeks following my firing, I was applying to IT jobs as a male. In the meantime (November 2009), I got a job as a waiter at the Tulsa Airport Hilton Garden Inn, a franchise operation owned by a Dallas hotel management company. A month later, I was living and dressing as female full time except when I worked at the Hilton. It was a good job. I worked the swing shift on weekends and did very well, averaging well over 20% in gratuities. The employers and staff had no problem with my presenting myself as a woman. I'd change for work, clock in, do my job, and everything was fine.
A few months later, things shifted into high gear. By Tulsa District Court Order, my name was legally changed to Jane Ireland. The next day, I got a job as a waitress working the lunch shift at one of Tulsa's best restaurants. The general manager knew me as a guy. Then I met the following week with upper management at the Hilton, who knew my reputation and would actually refer guests to the other restaurant where I worked. They said: "We'll see you on Friday as Jane." I was elated; my Hilton income would pay for gender reassignment surgery in a year and a half., and my other job would pay enough for me to live off of.
A couple days later I was called into the Airport Hilton HR office, and told that corporate attorneys in Texas intervened and would no longer allow me to work as a woman, since I was hired as a male.. My bubble was shattered, but I agreed. I continued working, wearing a little makeup and earrings as my only concessions to being Jane. When management called a few weeks later and asked me to stop, I obliged.
Mid June, I began wearing a bra, for the simple reason that it was necessary for my comfort. Even before that, one third of my customers called me ma'am, one third sir, and one third didn't want to commit. At the end of June, upper management called me in and told me to stop wearing a bra. I got upset, called the owners a word that rhymes with "spigot," said they didn't know who I was, and walked out of the meeting. Within hours, I apologized to the Food & Beverages Director via a text and four days later came into work and clocked in. The HR Manager was quickly clicking her heels towards me as I stocked the bar with my back to her. "Jane, let's go back..." They asked me to resign. I laughed and said they'd have to fire me. So they did, ironically at the beginning of the July 4th weekend.
I am a professional, having now worked successfully for 11 months as a fine dining waitress in a considerably more demanding setting than the Hilton. I was never written up at the Hilton. I did not have any complaints against me. My guests loved me. But it didn't matter. I had never been treated so poorly on the job.
What the Tulsa Airport Hilton Garden Inn did to me was wrong. Besides drawing unemployment, I also filed an EEOC discrimination complaint against them, and an investigation is now ongoing. This unfairness must stop.
Beyond my employment situation, I was rejected by my church. I was asked to resign by the board of a missions support ministry I started, my ministerial license was not renewed, and I was told to leave and stay away from the members of the church I had served since 2001. I have not been contacted since by the leadership of the ministry where I served my first 20 years as a Christian.
While my Hilton job ended prematurely, and I have been unable to find another IT job despite months of applications, I am so grateful for my fine dining family: the owner, GM, other management, and staff. They are absolutely beautiful. I don't make enough to save, but the job covers my immediate financial needs, and the incredible opportunity to serve the public as a woman in a first-class restaurant is priceless.
I have also found new strength from the support of my family. I was married 27 years to a woman who remains a close friend. We have three extremely gifted children. I also have a strong, artistic daughter from earlier years. All my children love and accept me, much more so than they did when I was trying too hard as a frustrated, critical father. My mom and siblings love me. My mom calls me her child, which is truly an honor. She is beautiful, and I could not be happier that I looked like her.
I have also found strength in my faith. I love Jesus with all my heart and he accepts, encourages and helps me. Sadly though, most of Christianity is in a self-absorbed, loveless state. I'm afraid most former friends are too self-righteous to research who I am and discover that my transgender identity is who I am, not a choice. They are missing the emergence of this butterfly into her full glory.
As a transgender woman, I've had a lot to overcome. But my faith, family, and friends have made me strong and resilient in the face of adversity. I know full well that others are not so fortunate, and I hope that soon, none of us will have to face these challenges simply because of who we are.