When IV Staklo started working in the food service, they faced not only threats of physical and sexual assult by coworkers but also hourly cuts by their employers, all because of their identity as a non-binary person.
Staklo told that story over coffee and donuts Tuesday morning to New Haven U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro at a roundtable the Congresswoman convened at Barracuda Bistro & Bar on Chapel Street for LGBTQ+ business owners and community leaders to discuss concerns regarding workplace protections for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
DeLauro described workplace discrimination as a “serious, serious problem.” While “we have a lot of problems, don’t get me wrong,” she is optimistic that “we have made some progress,” she told the group.
“We have to push forward” and “make the fight to speak out,” she said to the table of 15 local business owners.
Staklo, who works as the Hotline Program Director at Trans Lifeline, was the only trans attendee.
“In the books there are no-discrimination laws,” Staklo said. But Staklo’s employers found “not so direct and open ways” to make them feel uncomfortable, including pressuring their coworkers to abuse them. “It happens on the down low. Abuse happens behind the scenes,” and when an organization doesn’t have a “union or employee unity,” trans people get the “shortest end of the stick.”
“Three fifths of Americans can be fired for being gay or trans,” said DeLauro; “2.2 million trans people struggled to put food on the table.”
In response, DeLauro has been pushing for the Equality Act, which seeks to “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation” among other reasons.
DeLauro heard about other challenges facing the community. New Haven Pride Center Executive Director Patrick Dunn said that 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ+. A “disproportionately high rate” of youth are “kicked out of homes” for coming out to their families, which he called surprising for Connecticut, a politically “blue” state. Homeless shelters are so unsafe for trans youth, that they would “rather sleep on the streets,” said real estate agent and Unite Here organizer Sarah Locke.
Despite the social phobias towards LGBTQ+ youth, local business owner Colin Sheehan said that “kids are so accepting” and suggested that “the adults and elderly need to be educated and informed”.” Connor Thorpe from Save the Children immediately agreed with Sheehan and said that “kids really are our future.”
Thorpe said he and his fiancee are “proud of who [they] are” and strive to “be visible” and “be a good example” in combatting the gay stigma.
Our True Colors board member Barry Walters said that as a gay man, he’s constantly“assessing [his] environment” and asking himself questions like “Who are my allies?” and “Who do I avoid?” As Walters said this, several nods of acknowledgment and hums of approval rippled throughout the group.
The conversation took another turn when Staklo commended Planned Parenthood for its work in creating an unthreatening healthcare environment through use of “adequate and accurate language.” Staklo maintained that trans individuals face assault and abuse in traditional hospitals and healthcare centers, and many doctors result to the diagnosis of the “trans broken arm system,” where doctors blame the trans person’s ailment on identity and use of hormones.
“Men get mammograms; women get prostate exams,” said Staklo, suggesting that healthcare professionals be “educated to the fullest possible capacity” in order to the trans fear of medical abuse. “It can make a huge difference.”
DeLauro said that the recent Supreme Court decision to vote in favor of a bakery that refused services to a gay couple was a “narrow ruling.”
“I don’t think we can rely on the courts alone,” she concluded.