My View: For some, a job well done isn’t enough

By Nancy Nangeroni

I had always thought that to advance in my career I just needed to be very good at my job — that I would be judged on the merits of my work. At the age of 40, however, I learned how very wrong I was.

Until that time, I had a successful career as an engineer. With a degree from MIT, a strong work ethic and well-honed skills in electronics design, I had a job I loved, great co-workers, and was gradually gaining more and more managerial responsibilities.

That all changed in 1993, the year I made the difficult decision to transition to living as a woman. Suddenly, my once thriving career hit a wall, and I was no longer on track for management positions.

I had known for many years that I was transgender. It was a secret I kept for decades, hiding it from friends, family and co-workers as I tried to cover my internal struggle.

When I finally came out and started living as a woman, it was as if a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. After all these years, I was able to truly be myself and to express that self to others.

But it came at great consequence.

Although some of my co-workers were supportive, my workplace, on the whole, changed from being a friendly place to one where I was made to feel very uncomfortable. Former friends there treated me like an oddity, and I came to feel like an unwelcome intruder.

Eventually I changed jobs, hoping that starting work in a new place as a woman would make it easier for my co-workers to relate to me. But while I tried very hard to “fit in” as a woman, I still stood out to many as a curiosity — tolerated and appreciated for my engineering skills, but no longer management material because I’m transgender.

Over the course of many years and several jobs, I kept encountering the same thing. At one job, I was hired as a contract engineer — a high-priced temp brought in to solve some design problems — and quickly made a positive impression with management. I soon found myself invited to high-level strategic meetings where my advice and opinions were solicited and valued. But it was short-lived: As soon as the director found out I am transgender, the invitations stopped, and I was never invited to another strategic meeting. I went on to receive an award for my design work there, but I was never again included in higher-level meetings.

Like so many transgender persons, my career took a sharp downward turn following my transition. I became relegated to a virtual basement, carrying out low-level design work in a series of jobs below my skill grade.

And yet I consider myself one of the lucky ones — because the discrimination I have suffered is nothing compared to what many transgender people experience every day.

Everyone should be able to attend school, work and live without fear of discrimination or harm — and yet every day, transgender people are at risk of violence and harassment, or of losing our job or housing, simply because of who we are. And there is no law to protect us.

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My View: For some, a job well done isn’t enough…

Right now, here in our state, many transgender people are routinely fired by their employers. Many others, like myself, remain unemployed or underemployed as a result of discrimination, hostility and misunderstanding. We are often harassed and treated unfairly in public accommodations, housing and credit transactions. And transgender people are often targeted for property crimes, threats, assault and murder, facing much higher rates of violence because of our gender identity.

There’s a new bill being considered by the Legislature — H1722, “An Act Relative to Gender-Based Discrimination and Hate Crimes,” that would go a long way to ensure basic rights for transgender people. It would add gender identity and gender expression to the state’s existing nondiscrimination statute and amend existing hate crime laws to explicitly protect people targeted for violence and harassment.

In passing this bill, Massachusetts would be joining 13 states and 96 counties and cities comprising more than one-third of this country’s population — including traditionally conservative states like Colorado and Iowa, and neighboring states like Rhode Island, Maine and Vermont — in providing legal protection for transgender people. It’s time for us to catch up to much of the rest of the nation on this issue.

Please, help us make 2008 the year that Massachusetts joins with the growing chorus of voices recognizing that protecting people from discrimination based on their gender identity and expression is a matter of basic fairness and equality — and the right thing to do. Contact your state legislators today and ask them to support the passage of H1722.

Nancy Nangeroni is a Beverly resident. Her column was submitted by MassEquality, a statewide group representing the lesbian, gay, transsexual and transgender community. A public hearing on H1722 before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee is scheduled for Tuesday, March 4.