A Glimpse at Being Transgender, Working Minimum Wage, and Accessing Health Services

by Preston Van Vliet

I travel a lot for my job, and often find myself stopped at a coffee shop or a fast-food place to sit and to get some odds-and-ends done. I have a few favorite spots, of course. One of the fast-food places I stop by a few places a week has the friendliest staff. Their restaurant brings in a lot of the seniors from the community, and the staff do a great job of keeping everyone cozy with free coffee and refills. I spotted a staff person who resonated with me, someone I saw as potentially another trans person. I saw her staff treating her well, I saw the customers treat her well, but I know this is not the reality for a lot of trans people who work in visible jobs and in interacting with customers. I still feared for her day-to-day security and safety on the job. What if the restaurant hired a new staff who treated her like she was less than human? What if a customer treated her cruelly? What if her manager decided that it was too much of a hassle to deal with customers treating her badly and let her go? Being transgender in public can come with a lot of risks, especially in states like Michigan where transgender people can be fired, kicked out of housing, and kicked out of public for being transgender.

As the battle over minimum wage continues on in Michigan, I think about all the trans Michiganders who are in minimum wage jobs or in poverty, and how vulnerable they are already to economic hardship. I think of her, and how there’s a higher possibility that she had a harder time finishing school, that she has a harder time finding employers who will hire her, and that she probably has a harder time finding a landlord to accept her as a tenant. Factor in race, age, and disability, and you have a “perfect storm” of institutional obstacles in addition to being transgender and low-income.

With so many other barriers facing the transgender community, having a more sustainable minimum wage is a simple step in the right direction. While she still has to worry about her employment status everyday, at least she could make more while she has that job. At least she could pay for her groceries, and pay her rent for as long as her landlord keeps her as a tenant. She already faces so many barriers in getting the health care she needs. Even if she does get Healthy Michigan, the journey in finding a health professional who knows how to work with transgender people further delays receiving services. And even with Healthy Michigan, we are now seeing community mental health providers in the tri-county area not being able to provide services to people with Healthy Michigan. She shouldn’t have to deal with a $7.40 minimum wage. No one should.


For additional information on transgender discrimination, please read Injustice at Every Turn by The National Center for Transgender Equality and The National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce