With Pride Month underway in Israel and parades taking place in the cities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Be’er Sheva and Haifa, a new poll shows that Israel has a long way to go when it comes to transphobia. 

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Every fourth employer is not willing to employ people from the trans community, according to a survey conducted at the request of the Gila Trans Empowerment Project and Google as part of Pride Month, and published on June 7th. The survey data also shows that every third Israeli is not willing to work or study with transgender people. Correspondingly, two-thirds of Israelis (65%) reported to believe that Israeli society is intolerant of the transgender community.

The survey was conducted in May by market research company Ipsos, polling 515 respondents who represented a cross-section of Israel’s population, as well as 256 business owners, employers and those responsible for company recruitment. The findings from the employers’ testimonies show that the main barriers to the employment of transgender people are religious belief and fear of deterring other employees or customers.

This new data comes on the heels of past studies published by the Israeli Institute for Gender and LGBT Studies, which have indicated significant problems of unemployment or pay below minimum wage in the trans community. It points to underlying prejudices against trans people in Israeli society, causing discrimination in the workforce.

“100% of employers of transgender people are satisfied with their performance at work”

“Transphobia kills even when it comes in the form of discrimination and abuse in the labor market,” said Bar Awasker, CEO of the Gila Trans Empowerment Project. “This campaign is a reminder that the solution to our plight is in the hands of all Israeli society – let us earn a decent living and be supported in the workplace even in the face of transphobia and save lives.” 

Along with the disturbing data that the survey revealed, Awaskar pointed out that there is also a bright side. 

“Over 75% of Israelis are willing to accept and provide service to trans people, and 100% of Israeli employers who employ transgender workers are satisfied with their performance at work; this is a call for more and more employers to learn about us and employ us,” Awasker explained.

As part of the joint campaign for the Gila and Google project, a video was produced featuring a high-tech worker who wants to inform her co-workers, who had known her so far as a man, about the gender reassignment process she went through during vacation, and ask them to begin addressing her as a woman. The video presents the concerns that arise in her, and the results of her Google search for the question: “How do I tell my workplace that I am trans?” In addition, the campaign also includes billboards that read “Make a place for everyone,” written in both the Hebrew masculine and feminine form.

“Our campaign focuses on a successful trans woman because it was important to us to reflect the opportunities and potential of the trans community to integrate into the employment market,” said Barak Regev, CEO of Google Israel. “We entered into this partnership with Gila Project out of a desire to learn for ourselves how we can improve and make Google a more accessible and respectful company for the trans community.”

According to him, the company’s employment diversity program already offers its employees subsidies for gender reassignment processes, grants for surrogacy services and awareness training for employees. 

“This month, our teams will also undergo the Gila Project training so that we can better employ, retain and promote people from the trans community,” he said.

According to the Israel Institute for Gender and LGBT Studies, people on the transgender spectrum were six times more likely to be unemployed in 2019 than non-transgender people. Only 25% of transgender people worked full time (compared to 78% in the general population) and half earned lower than minimum wage (compared to one-tenth of the general population).

The vast majority of the trans community – about 80% – are located in the bottom three deciles in the income distribution in Israel in 2019. In addition, about half of transgender people in Israel have experienced physical violence at least once based on their gender identity, and about 70% of community members regularly experience verbal violence for the same reason.

A billboard on the Ayalon Highway, as part of a campaign to encourage the employment of workers from the trans community (Photo: Gila Project for Trans Empowerment)

According to Dr. Sigal Goldin of the Israel Institute for Gender and LGBT Studies, “there is a direct and strong link between the unemployment and poverty rate among members of the trans community, and the high suicide rate,” with 4 out of 5 transgender people considering suicide, and about 40% even attempting suicide at least once in their lifetime. 

“It is important that employers in the economy understand that hiring workers from the trans spectrum will not only benefit them from dedicated workers, but it can actually save lives,” he continued. 

“We should be treated as employees for all intents and purposes”

“What is special about this campaign is its specific target of employers,” said Zohar Katan, of the Gila Trans Empowerment Project team. The project offers interested employers training and workshops to make the workplace ‘trans-friendly’ – that is, one that encourages the integration of workers from the trans community.

“There are a lot of very talented and professional wo/men in our community, many of whom are experts in their field but often miss out in the job market. We want to tell employers that it would be a shame to miss good employees,“ Katan said.

The training that the Gila Project provides to managers, human resources staff and recruiters includes an introduction to the Trans Community and its situation in the labor market, and a discussion on how to encourage its integration from the job interview stage, through recruitment, employee retention processes and a comfortable work environment.

A 2019 protest for the trans community, "Fighting for Our Lives." (Photo: Flash90)

“The most important thing that employers will pay attention to is to first and foremost address the employee, her skills and the work she does,” Katan explained. “Many times when I go to a job interview, I can get into a situation where they don’t ask me at all about my skills; only about my identity. We must first be treated as employees for all intents and purposes.”

Beyond that, the training emphasizes the importance of maintaining a safe work environment from violence or harassment, and establishing a clear organizational policy for dealing with such situations.

“Of course it is also important to instill norms such as properly addressing employees and referring to them in the gendered language they have chosen, and allow them to dress in a way that suits their gender identity in the workplace,” Katan went on.  

Katan emphasized that studies show how employment diversity contributes to companies' profitability and innovation.

“Ultimately companies should not be afraid to hire trans people and also promote them at the forefront. They will get credit for that, because the company is progressing and people today are seeing diversity as a positive,” Katan said. 

The Gila Project, named after Gila Goldstein, one of the pioneers of the community in Israel, was established in 2011 as a national organization which grew out of and for the trans community. It operates in a variety of areas such as mentoring, understanding and exercising one’s rights, legal advice, support in health and gender reassignment processes and promoting policy changes.

In about a month, the Trans Center will also be established in the Yad Eliyahu neighborhood of Tel Aviv, a joint initiative together with “HaAguda – Israel’s LGBT Task Force” that will offer services and treatments to the trans community. In the future, the association hopes also to offer employment programs to the trans community itself such as employment fairs, placement programs and vocational training.

This article was translated from Hebrew by Hannah Blount.