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Pioneer Program Battles Transgender Discrimination

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Several transgender women receive job training skills from D.C. government's pioneer Project Empowerment program.
Armando Trull
Several transgender women receive job training skills from D.C. government's pioneer Project Empowerment program.

The District of Columbia has launched the first government-funded program in the country to help transgendered women and men overcome workplace discrimination. 

It's been a violent year for transgendered women in D.C. with one murder and multiple assaults. It's no surprise for Latisa Mormon, who 's been a sex worker in the District.

"I've been brutally beat on my head with seven baseball bats, left me unconscious," she says.  "I've been stabbed in my face as you can see. I've been a victim of a gunshot." 

A total of 21 transgendered people, including Jamie Gunner, are participating in Project Empowerment's pilot program to help them escape unemployment and, in some cases, the mean streets of D.C.

"I want to be a productive citizen of society," says Gunner. "I want to get back into the workforce." 

Entering the workforce isn' t easy, explains Gunner: "Sometimes you can over-qualify for the job and when you get there and they see that you're transgendered, they don't hire you." 

Keeping a job isn't easy either, says Julius Aegers. Aegers was a manufacturing engineer who faced hard times when she became a he.

"Because it was so difficult to transition at work, in a place where I've known people for many years, it was very tough for me," says Aegers. "I had to go through a couple of years of unemployment." 

Emile Hancock began transitioning to a woman after finishing military service. "The second I started dressing differently, everything changed for me dramatically," she says. "It was like every door was slammed shut and the key was thrown away."

Those door slams can be devastating, says Tania Duran. "They made me quit the job," says Duran. "And I had to do something and that was working on the streets, and I ended up being an alcoholic for five years."

Now that she's in the Project Empowerment program, she says, "my future ... a job, means everything to me."

Those who finish the program are guaranteed placement, says Charles Jones, with the District's Department of Employment Services. They may find employment within the District government, which is subsidized, or with the private sector or nonprofits. These will be entry level jobs, but for Gunner, Aegers, Duran and the others it means acceptance, and a chance to do more.

Social service," says Mormon of her aspirations. "Because I want to help people that's been through things that I've been through."

Aegers agrees. "I'd like to help D.C. be a better place for people that are marginalized and people that are struggling," he says.

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