(h/t to Feministe for this)

And out of my own home city’s gay newspaper comes this story, about a transwoman who was dismissed from a temporary job with the caveat that if she wanted to work there again, she would have to submit photos of her genitalia:

Blatt worked at Sapa for about a month, before allegedly being told by a supervisor that she wasn’t physically well enough to work at the job and was no longer needed at Sapa, she said.

After being discharged from Sapa, Blatt said she personally visited Manpower’s branch office in Pottsville, in an attempt to return to work.

Irene Kudziela, branch manager of Manpower’s Pottsville office, allegedly told Blatt that a letter from her surgeon documenting her gender-reassignment surgery — along with a photograph of her genital area — would be necessary before she could return to Sapa.

Wow.

I mean, wow.

As a member of the HR community, I have to say: I’m astounded. Not that this happens, no, of course not. I’ve read enough news and blogs to know there’s nothing surprising about this – people really do seem to have trouble acknowledging that transpeople are people too. But in a professional organization, where a company’s business (staffing) is part of the Human Resources industry, one would be inclined to think they’d be well aware of the laws and protections in place in other states, and they’d want to avoid being the lightning rod for Pennsylvania. Of course, Pennsylvania currently has no protections in place for employees in the private sector – not for sexual orientation, and not for gender identity.

Potential loophole here: Blatt has been classified as having a disability – “gender dysphoria.” While it’s not thrilling to think about gender identity being classified as disabling, it’s possible that she’ll be able to use that loophole to further her wrongful termination suit, as disability is a federally protected status.

And of course, Manpower has released the appropriately-worded PC statement:

“The biggest thing to remember is that we’re absolutely committed to the safety and security of our workforce, including the transgender members of our workforce,” Perkins said. “We’re committed to having diversity in our workforce.”

<sarcasm>Yes, Manpower, we can see you’re committed to having diversity in your workforce – so committed that you will take on the repulsive task of determining gender by graphic photographs. Applause all around, folks, for the committment of this wonderful organization.</sarcasm>

I think what they’re actually committed to is a) making their trans employee(s) feel uncomfortable, and b) having a good laugh at someone else’s expense.

Having worked in HR for five years now, I can say with all honesty that confidential information rarely stays that way – perhaps it does within the organization (our company in particular has a pretty good track record of keeping things quiet), but we’re all human. We have friends, spouses, partners. We talk about our days at work. I have related stories from my day to Donna, my parents, my friends. I have even, on occasion, blogged the more interesting stories. I take great efforts to strip any identifying factors from those stories (and have deleted a few from the blog after discussions with my father and Donna about privacy and self-protection). But still, the stories get out there.

Can you imagine if there were photographs involved? The kind of person who is willing to violate individual privacy by asking for graphic photographs of a person’s genitalia is likely to be the kind of person who emails them to friends.

Another point that irked me:

In response to Blatt’s allegation that she’s been banned from future employment at Manpower, Perkins said: “That would happen with anyone we went through a termination process with. That’s our policy for anybody that’s been terminated. What’s under question is whether it was a wrongful termination.”

Um. Of course it’s wrongful termination. Blatt has done nothing legitimately wrong. There is no “cause” here, no theft, misconduct, falsification of records.  And I hope that branch manager was appropriately disciplined for the action.

But I applaud Blatt’s attitude about the situation:

“I’m hoping I’ll be hired permanently by Sapa, possibly as a diversity trainer,” Blatt said. “I want these companies to stop looking at people like me as if we’re the worst evil there is. We’re valuable human beings who have a lot to offer these companies. Given the chance, we could be turned into great advocates for these companies.”

It’s a noble stance to take, considering the backlash she’d risk in joining. But she’s right, and if Sapa is smart, they’ll take her up on it: companies need advocates for diversity who actually have some diversity experience to bring to the table. And both Sapa and Manpower have the opportunity to take this nasty situation and turn it around into more positive PR. We’ll just have to sit back and see what happens.

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