A More Sustainable Work Model for Queer & Trans People
The global pandemic’s lockdown changed the way many of us approach our work. A remarkable amount of businesses and organizations shifted to work-at-home formats, and even now many remain work-at-home. For many queer and trans people, this has been a blessing. Employers based out of more progressive areas hire remotely, and freelancing is a much more sustainable career option. But regardless of in-person or remote work, infrastructure in Tennessee does remarkably little to protect its workers.
Tennessee is a right-to-work state, meaning a person hired by an employer or company subject to a collective bargaining agreement can decide whether or not to join a union and pay its dues. Regardless of that individual’s choice, there are some benefits provided by a collective bargaining agreement applicable to everyone, but far less than offered by union protection.
Many Southern states are right-to-work states, and those in support of that legislation view it as freeingand appreciate the option rather than compulsoryunion memberships. However, many see states with this legislation as anti-union, attempting to save money rather than prioritizing the rights of their workers. Like too many systems in this country, this disproportionately affects BIPOC and LGBTQ+ employees. There are far fewer protections against workplace injustice without union membership and involvement.
Tennessee is also, sadly, an at-will state, meaning an employer can fire you without giving you a reason. On paper, an at-will state employer cannot fire you “illegally”: they cannot fire you for your religion, race, sexual orientation, gender, etc. But again, that is on paper. Employers can easily get around firing based on discrimination, and if they are sued for wrongful termination, many employers are able to weasel out of the lawsuit by later providing vague claims of “just cause” in that employee’s termination.
I have personally been let go for my gender identity and sexual orientation, and I know many others who have as well, and I cannot name a single instance where the person terminated received anything from a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Basically, employment rules are vague, and right-to- work states have a culture of neglecting basic employee rights. Since this infrastructure has remained largely unchallenged, it does not seem to be going anywhere, and many of us have turned to freelancing.
Self-employment, contractor positions, and freelancing are hardly a last resort. The freedom to make your own rules, express yourself, avoid public bathrooms, and focus on the work you enjoy is a much more sustainable work model for many queer and trans people. It certainly comes with its own challenges, like unsteady pay and no guarantee of a payoff, so below are a few tips for those of you in freelancing or contemplating it.
First, create and find your own professional support system. Inclusion Tennessee is a great place to start for those living in Middle Tennessee. With regular support group meetings, their whole vision and purpose is to provide a space for people to connect, network, and share resources. While not necessarily workplace-focused, there are plenty of staff, volunteers, and participants to support you and point you to the resources you need. For those living in Memphis, OUTMemphis’ support services and the MidSouth LGBT Chamber of Commerce networking events are a good place to get going.
Second, know the platform you are using inside and out. While sites like Etsy are popular, and super queer, they take quite a percentage of each sale. If you are looking to create a subscription service for your customers or consumers, Patreon is user-friendly, quick to respond to any of your complaints, and much quicker to protect you against online harassment compared to OnlyFans and social media apps. They also take much less of a cut than Etsy does. Whatever your work and whatever your chosen website platform, research its help and IT support center, and read user agreements carefully so you aren’t blindsided by fees.
Third, and most obvious, know what you have to offer and the customer you are offering it to. Developing clear marketing for yourself does not have to cost you an arm and a leg. Have a simple graphic, accessibility across social media, and prepare a good hook and elevator pitch for your business, services, or product. The more you hone and understand who your target demographic and clientele are, the quicker and easier your promotion will be. Working smarter like this will hopefully make your output and sales move faster.
If you have questions or concerns about a potential employer or partnership with another business, Glassdoor is a much better place to research than Google reviews or Yelp. Past and present employees post their experiences, and while some posts might be exaggerated or missing the full story, you can glean a lot from others’ experiences. Reading through a job posting to see if they include and emphasize a non-discriminatory clause is a good idea, too.
Regardless of your work status, know who represents you and has your interests at heart, be it a local organization, a state-funded organization, or legislator. We all deserve more people in our corner than there are in this state, but the more familiar with your rights and protections you are, the better prepared you will be for any discriminatory workplace scenario.