Yes, she's strange and different...but not THAT different.

23 June 2006

The Power of Google

Vanessa Edwards Foster is a long-time activist, and is currently the Chair and Co-Founder of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC). She's also a friend. I thought this editorial that arrived from her via the NTAC mailing list was worth repeating verbatim, so here it is:

The Power of Google vs. "Out and Proud"
By Vanessa Edwards Foster

Don't you love background checks? Yes, when in job-search mode, you become inured to this "laying bare" of your record - and even your personal life sometimes. We know it's there and, especially if you're out in the GLBT community, you know the potential for discovery. But in our day-to-day lives, we tend to give it only passing thought.

It's occurred to me that we've been living in the 20th century if we think our lives aren't readily available to all. Take a good look around. We're living in the age of information, with computers on virtually every citizen's desk. With more users crowding the "information superhighway," user-friendly facility has become the standard.

And lest we forget, we also live in an age where evangelical neo-conservatism is in vogue, with its paranoid zeal of ferreting out and neutralizing those deemed subversive. To wit: the revelation of the National Security Administration keeping files on all GLBT organizations and their affiliates - political or no.

The potential impact for the TGLB job seeker (acronym rearranged in order of impact) with any typical employer is devastating. This doesn't require private investigators, or even the minimal cost of credit checks (a problem for anyone in the trans community who changes their name). No, all the eagle-eyed employer needs is right at their fingertips:

Yesterday I came face to face with the reality of Google in a most blatant way. Interviewing for one of a series of temp jobs, I walked in with this position's interviewer, and she sat down across from me after giving me a full once-over. She was a large-boned, grandmotherly gray-haired woman, with one perpetually cocked eyebrow, and things began rather typically - "so tell me about yourself …."

After my brief report, the conversation took a mighty turn: "Obviously we do background checks here, and I was just checking online - so, tell me, have you ever heard of the group -" and she referred to her folder of notes, "a group called N.T.A.C?"

It felt as if the floor fell out from under me. I knew instantly she'd done a thorough job of searching the Internet, so I answered, simply, "yes."

Her eyes studied me closely, as she asked her follow-up: "so how did you come to work with … THEM?" While I hate politically legalistic answers - avoiding both lies and forthrightness, I answered in that vain: "I've worked for a number of causes, such as the Women's Political Caucus, that stand up for those whom are disadvantaged or disparate."

She acknowledge seeing my work with the Women's Caucus, then referring to her notes again, she asked if I had heard of "T.G.A.I.N"? "And how did you become involved with THEM?" Note that in her questions, there was special emphasis on her part on the once word - THEM! It's a slightly more politic euphemism for "THOSE PEOPLE!"

Needless to say, the jig was up and I explained to her my transgender status. This drew another quick once-over, and the response "Wow. Well, I certainly couldn't tell. Surprising!" That last sentence seemed dubious since I knew she'd done her Googling pretty thoroughly. The rest of the interview was typical - if perfunctory - job experience questioning. Two gallons of gas burned for a job interview that wasn't going to hire me anyway. Peachy.

After telling my friend Ethan about the incident, he replied to me "well, yeah! There's like thousands of entries in Google about you!" WHAT? I figured I'd have a few. There were 119 last I'd checked … admittedly that was around the. So I Googled myself and, lo, there were thousands of entries all right. And topping the list: the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition. And there were pictures too, lending more proof. And phone numbers, home address - even rather personal details of my physical status in an interview I'd granted with the Hill News, Capitol Hill's prime periodical.

So where does that leave outed TGLB job hopefuls? Pioneer transgender activist, Phyllis Frye is best known for her exhortation: "Be Out And Proud!" "When you transition, don't run from one closet into another closet!" Mostly, I agree. You have to be open in order to debunk the myths and demystify the misconceptions of us that society holds. But by opening ourselves for society's edification we also open ourselves to those who still cleave to their fear of us, rationale notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, especially in the red states, how do we open GLBT folk survive? There are jobs in social advocacy, and a number of gays and lesbians do find work there. Transgender advocacy is overwhelmingly voluntary (e.g. NTAC). Paid employment for transgenders in advocacy is much rarer. So where does this leave the future of activism? One can only speculate. There are, however, certain attendant costs to being "out and proud."

If you'd like to contact Vanessa, I've got an email address you can use to do that.

  • On 6/23/2006 4:34 PM, Blogger DeniseUMLaw said…

    Knowing Vanessa, I'm actually surprised by this. She tried to interview for a job *stealth*? I just asssumed, from the beginning, that choosing to be out meant being out -- in nearly every important context, but especially in the workplace.

    Like her, Googling may name produces many hits. If they don't want to hire the trans-me, they don't want to hire me and I don't want to work there.

    I wish her luck.

  • On 6/23/2006 4:47 PM, Blogger Diana_CT said…

    Last weekend at a conference I was at sponsored by NCTE, someone was saying the same thing about Google but not about jobs, but dating. When she gave the girl that she had met her last name, the girl googled it and found 15,000 hits on the name.
    So if you are going to be out in the spot light your name will eventually get out on the internet. Mine has; if you search my full name you will get one hit on a GLBT site thanking the volunteers.

  • On 6/24/2006 5:13 PM, Blogger nexy said…

    "Meanwhile, especially in the red states, how do we open GLBT folk survive? "

    well, i'm not sure i'd consider myself particularly "open", though admittedly, i don't keep the fact that i'm trans particularly private either.

    i survive by understanding the impact of the decisions i've made in my life, and dealing with the consequences, particularly the 75% pay decrease i endured over the past two years, and the tedious nature of the work i now perform - for a company that scored 100% in their cei rating.

    i'm not in the habit of talking about my medical history or transition with strangers, and that includes when i interview for a job. on the other hand, when the job application includes the question about previous names used, i write in my previous name.

    that pretty much limits me to working for companies that are looking for qualified people, regardless of the "disabilities" exhibited by their job applicants...

  • On 6/24/2006 8:17 PM, Blogger Jen said…

    "i survive by understanding the impact of the decisions i've made in my life, and dealing with the consequences, particularly the 75% pay decrease i endured over the past two years, and the tedious nature of the work i now perform - for a company that scored 100% in their cei rating."

    Oomph. Wow.

    Thanks for finding and posting this, Jami. I linked to it at TG.


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