This Amazing New Startup Focuses On Transgender Equality This Amazing New Startup Focuses On Transgender Equality Carolyn Weiss, founder and president of Transgender Business Services, could not have asked for a more supportive work environment when she began her gender transition process in 2011. At that time, Weiss was working for the City of Los Angeles and her boss hired a trans woman who specialized in trans awareness training for businesses, in order to give Weiss the support she needed and help her colleagues understand what she was going through. The experience was invaluable, for both Weiss – who like any one going through the difficulties of a gender transition process, needed all the support she could get – and her team. It inspired Weiss to set up her own consulting practice to give businesses the tools they need to in turn support employees who are transitioning, and provide knowledge to their staff. “I realized, from my own experience, that training staff is critical to anyone’s transition in the workplace and I wanted to try doing it myself,” she says. She launched her company in March with the intent of providing in-person training to employees of small-to-mid-sized businesses and has been working with a range of companies to help their staff “understand what trans gender people are about by demystifying the issues surrounding gender transition and breaking down the barriers.” Weiss has also trained nursing students, worked with mental health professionals and is scheduled to do a training program at a high school in her area in January. And just a day after she launched her business, a local company that produces and markets e-learning courses and webinars contacted Weiss, asking her to partner on a video based on her training program material. “Our intent is to try to get that out into the marketplace nationwide and instead of helping a few dozen businesses a year, we could use it to help hundreds across the country provide their staff with the training they need,” she says. But even if Weiss is encouraged by the openness of businesses, both large and small, to support their transgender employees and educate their workforce on transgender issues, her own, positive experience may be a unique story. Many transgender people have a tough time in the workplace, she says, and they’re often up against strong discrimination. Because of this, many are reluctant and afraid to transition while working for fear of losing their standing or their jobs. That’s exactly what happened to Ann Thomas. She began transitioning slowly in 2000 but immediately ran into problems at work. “I was working on an organic farm, the company was very conservative and told me not to do it but I did and I lost my job,” Thomas says. On a personal level, too, things were very tough for Thomas. “I dressed kind of female during the week but during the weekend, I would have to dress male to see my kids. After my wife died in an accident in 2009, I went back to dressing 100% as male because my daughter had just lost her mom – she was 16, it was very hard and I had not come out to her as yet. It was the worst time in my life, though, and I felt like dying.” Thomas stuck to the course, though, and was finally able to transition three years ago and pursue new opportunities. After appearing in episodes of Glee (she sang with the transgender chorus featured in the show) and Transparent, she realized how keen the entertainment industry is in featuring transgender talent. While agencies do represent transgender individuals, there was a need, she says, for a dedicated enterprise, and so she set up Transgender Talent. Just like any business that’s getting off the ground, Thomas launched hers on a shoestring budget. Crowdfunding helped a bit, but she’s still working a day job and “I’m hoping that I can land some bigger gigs for people from bigger businesses that would pay more,” she says. “Overall, though, I have a very optimistic outlook for trans people in the entertainment industry, even if it’s going to take another 10 or 20 years to change the rest of the nation.” According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey carried out by National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender people are three times more likely to be unemployed than the general population. Survey participants also said they also experience higher-than-average rates of violence and psychological distress, which many in the community fear may increase during the administration of President-elect Donald Trump. Still, things are changing and business owners like Weiss and Thomas are hopeful for a better future for their community. “The only time I can see when being a trans business owner would have problems with clientele is when they advertise, as I have, as a transgender-owned business,” Weiss says. “For me, it defines who I am and the services I provide but that is actually pretty rare, as far as I know. I could own a nail salon and no one would know until they got to know me, and by that time I would hope that it wouldn’t matter.” Savita Iyer Savita Iyer-Ahrestani is a freelance writer with close to 20 years of reporting and writing experience. She has worked as a business journalist in New York and as a freelancer, she’s reported and written articles on a wide range of topics from the United States, Switzerland, India and The Netherlands. She holds a Master’s degree from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications and her articles and essays have appeared in a range of different publications across the globe. Savita is the co-author of “Brandstorm: Surviving and Thriving in the Consumer-Led Marketplace” (Palgrave-MacMillan 2012). She is represented by Laura Yorke of the Carol Mann Agency, New York, and is currently working on a novel.