Meet the Activist Who Just Launched the Nation’s First Trans Employee Job Placement Program

California has launched the nation’s first large-scale job placement program aimed at connecting trans people with employers.The new California Transgender Workplace Project (CTWP) was founded by transgender activist Michaela Mendelsohn, who has enthusiastically hired trans people at her own El Pollo Loco franchises in Southern California for years. The program’s goal is to lower the unemployment rate for trans people, who are twice as likely to be unemployed.

“The program is really a progression over years,” Mendelsohn told Ms. “There is a tremendous amount of excitement in the media, in the LGBT community throughout the country and a lot of organizations have expressed interest and are lining up to help us where they can.”

Mendelsohn knows tackling the unemployment rate from multiple angles is necessary because of the immense challenges trans employees face in both job obtainment and in the workforce. At least one in four trans people have lost a job as a result of discrimination and at least three-fourths have had negative experiences at their workplace. Problems with employment are even more severe for trans people of color. Her own employee’s stories of multiple forms of discrimination, abuse and sexual harassment inspired her to act.

“I started hiring other trans women and I found how excited they were to be on a level playing field, working as their true gender for the first time in their lives,” she said. “And how incredibly they grew day to day by having contact with customers as their real selves.”

Mendelsohn’s efforts culminated with the creation of the organization this year:

I really decided to start the program when a young woman was hired by one of my managers. She told me her story working with another franchise. Even though she was presenting obviously as a female she was forced by management to use the men’s restroom and she was essentially molested there. She didn’t quit. Most of these girls feel they don’t have a whole lot of choices. She stuck with the job and they let her use the women’s restroom as long as no one else was there. One day she walked in and another woman walked in behind her who backed out and told her husband what she thought was a man was in the restroom. The husband pressured the manager who fired the employee.

By partnering with the California Restaurant Association, the CTWP secured a grant that will fund the production of an informative video that managers and owners can use to update restaurants on policies and promote inclusiveness.  The grant, funded by the California Workforce Development Board, also provides reimbursement for 60 hours of training for new hires.

Additionally, through the support of organizations like the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the TransLatin@ Coalition and others throughout the Golden State, the placement program is actually a multi-level initiative and a full-fledged resource for restaurants. On top of hosting informative seminars throughout the state, the program provides employers access to pools of trans job seekers as well as a mentorship, counseling and training element for potential new hires.

“The centers will give seminars and our people will work with counselors on how to put together a resume. There are education programs for them to be ready for the workforce. We hope to send people out that are really prepared,” Mendelsohn told Ms. “We help staff restaurants with enthusiastic workers.”

In addition to Mendelsohn’s absolute dedication to supporting restaurants through the program, her ultimate goal is to support trans people. “If there is a particular person who is interested,” she said, “I will personally help them out.”

Michele Sleighel is working on her thesis for a MA in Communication at the University of Texas in San Antonio and has an undergrad degree in PR from the University of Texas in Austin. She’s an editorial intern at Ms. When she’s not researching and writing, she drinks coffee and thinks about researching and writing. She’s very proud of her El Paso roots. 


Michele Sleighel is a former Research Assistant at the Feminist Majority Foundation. She has an MA in Communication at the University of Texas in San Antonio and a BS in PR from the University of Texas in Austin and is very proud of her El Paso roots. Find her on Twitter @MicheleSleighel