April 24, 2019
“A lot of queer and trans people resent being forced to come up with a cohesive narrative. I don’t want to be representative. I don’t want to be the one voice. I don’t want to be pinned down.”—Andrea Lawlor, on queer lit and their book Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl.
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Black women have been saying for years that they tend to get pulled aside for “hair pat-downs” in airport security lines almost every time they fly. They usually chalk this up to the racism they face on a daily basis, but a recent investigation by Propublica finds that it might be more than just the bias of TSA agents—the machines themselves can’t seem to scan Black women’s hair (or turbans and wigs) properly, and it sets off the alarm. Jazzmen Knoderer describes her experience with the pat-downs: “It doesn’t feel random when it happens three times in a row. It doesn’t feel random when you see that all the people around you, who don’t look like you, aren’t asked to step aside...I don’t want to change the way my hair grows out of my head.”
When technology is not tested for diverse users, you end up with oversights that disproportionately affect some groups more than others. As we rely more and more on technology, we need to keep this in mind to avoid perpetuating bias.
Are there technologies or services on your campus or in your workplace that aren't designed with a diverse set of users in mind? Instead of serving their original purpose, could these services actually just be reinforcing painful stereotypes?
In October of this year, the Supreme Court will take on three cases to determine whether sexual orientation and gender identity are covered under federal anti-discrimination in employment laws. The cases, which have already gone through the lower courts, involve “a transgender funeral home director who won her case after being terminated; a gay skydiving instructor who successfully challenged his firing; and a social worker who was unable to convince a court that he was unlawfully dismissed because of his sexual orientation.” While polls show that many people think federal employment protection already extends to LGBTQ+ people, the ACLU reports that “only 22 states and the District of Columbia have laws expressly providing protection,” and “about half of gay Americans live in those states.” According to James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV Project, a ruling against federal protection “would be disastrous, relegating LGBTQ people around the country to a second-class citizen status.”
We agree with Esseks that LGBTQ+ people would be disastrously impacted by a ruling that would fail to protect them from employment discrimination on a federal level. As he says in a blog post earlier this week, “the stakes here are huge...If federal law says it’s fine to fire someone because she’s lesbian or transgender, other federal civil rights laws may well not protect LGBTQ people, either.” The civil rights laws Esseks mentions involve education, housing, healthcare, and other basic human rights.
The underlying threat posed by this situation may already be placing stress and fear on the LGBTQ+ people in your workplace, school, and life. Consider ways you can support the LGBTQ+ community during the next few months and beyond. Are there ways you can better ensure the safety and protection of LGBTQ+ individuals in your community? For example, are there laws at the local level or policies at your school or company for which you could be advocating?
Spectrum Fusion, a non-profit that works with people with autism, has launched a new program called the Reactor Room, where adults with autism, referred to in the program as “reactors,” pitch their idea for a business or invention—or simply describe their passions and strengths—and “a panel of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and social innovators” brainstorm with them and suggest connections and ideas. The goal is to help reactors “find not just a job but a meaningful career,” which is particularly significant when we consider that “90 percent of adults with the disorder that impairs communication and social interaction are unemployed or underemployed.” Will Purdy, one of the reactors, says businesses “often don’t have the time and resources to look at the whole person.” Those at Spectrum Fusion hope the program will help business leaders think differently about hiring people with autism.
This program gives both business leaders and job candidates with autism the facetime they need to move past negative assumptions about disability. The reactors have career ambitions that go beyond the jobs they’re typically offered—jobs that keep them behind the scenes and away from social interaction.
Consider programs like Spectrum Fusion to help you mentor or hire adults with autism. Find out if there is a need for career development programming for those with autism in your school or workplace.