The day I got my driver’s license with the gender marked “F” and my new legal name was one of the best days of my life. I was assigned male at birth, and my parents named me Steven. But I’d known for many years that I am a woman, and now I had the identification to prove it.
That year also included many of the hardest days. My parents, who belong to a conservative church, disowned me. My next-door neighbor hosed me in the face with a chemical poison. And I was fired from the job that I loved – all because I am transgender.
I’m an electrician, and I was working at H & H Electric, a contractor in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The day after I got my new driver’s license, I told my boss that I am a transgender woman. He looked shocked. He told me that I was one of his best people and that he would hate to lose me. I was stunned that his first reaction was that he might have to fire me.
He didn’t fire me right away, but he didn’t let me come to work as a woman, either. He told me I couldn’t discuss my transition with anyone at work or use my legal name, Patricia.
Even though I didn’t say anything, people at work noticed that I was transitioning. My hair was growing out, and I’d started hormone therapy. Some of my co-workers were kind to me, but others were cruel. Twice, co-workers tried to sabotage my work. One of those instances could have caused an explosion that could hurt or even kill someone. Fortunately, I discovered it in time, and no one was hurt.
The more time passed, the more it became obvious that I am a woman. Eventually I felt brave enough to wear makeup and a blouse to work. I was on top of the world. I had a great job, and I was finally being myself. That week, my boss pulled me aside and said, “I’m sorry, Steve, you do great work, but you are too much of a distraction and I am going to have to let you go.”
I am not a distraction. I am a woman, and I shouldn’t be fired for being who I am. That’s why the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on my behalf arguing that firing me because I am transgender is illegal sex discrimination.
Even though federal law prohibits employers from hiring or firing people because of their gender, here in Arkansas and in 31 other states, there are no laws that explicitly tell employers that discrimination against transgender people is illegal. I’m here to make sure that transgender workers are judged on their job performance, not who they are.