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To begin, a quick history lesson will keep you up to date with all the work transgender people have put forth in order to help Pride month happen in the first place. The fight for LGBTQ+ rights dates back further than one usually imagines but, in particular, is typically marked by the Stonewall Riots. Led by Marsha "Pay It No Mind" Johnson, a transgender woman of color who helped the New York activist scene for over 25 years, the Stonewall Riots began on June 28th, 1969 in New York. Alongside Sylvia Riveria, a Latina trans woman, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a black trans woman, Marsha P. Johnson led one of the most important queer liberations in history.
While the Riots remain a huge moment in history, many often forget those who played front-facing roles in it. Marsha was only 23 years old at the time but was a fearless, ferocious, brave leader who tackled injustice head-on in the riots. In addition to this, she was also co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a shelter for homeless transgender youth; she was a big activist for the BIPOC and LGBT+ community, and STAR was revolutionary in many ways, including being the first-ever LGBT+ shelter in North America which was also the first organization in the US to be run by a trans woman of color. Marsha's contributions toward the first Pride parade preceded it by an entire year- the first pride parades came a year after the stonewall riots to commemorate it. Her legacy will live on through her acts and is celebrated by members of the LGBT+ community alike every pride.
With that out of the way, being trans during pride month can hold a lot of meaning for a lot of people, especially given the incomparable history led by transgender women that helped to shape the LBGT+ community today. Pride itself has a long history rooted in defying gender normalities and cisgender, heteronormative ideals. That, in it itself, is a lot to be proud of- let alone each individual's transgender experience that brings more color to personal pride. It is something to celebrate, our own continuation, contribution, and resistance to oppression. For those who are out as transgender, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, nonbinary, or identify anywhere outside of the cisgender binary, just being yourself and expressing your gender identity is a way of celebrating this. And it is momentous to do so! However, of course, it's not the only way; going to pride parades, celebrating with friends, or having your own celebration is just as good, if not more fun. Going to pride marches, participating in pride events or activities, and any form of activism are great ways of acknowledging and indulging in the history that brought us here.
Reaching out for helpPhoto by Stormseeker on Unsplash
But, of course, there is always the other side of the coin because this can be extremely difficult for some due to past experiences or traumas. And for others, this is not an option because (and unfortunately, more often than not) coming out is not a safe, viable option due to age, location, and often the stiff political climate that makes transgender people stay hidden. So while there is a lot to celebrate and be proud of, we must also be prideful for those who are unable to be. Because in addition to the rich history of activism and change, there is still an extreme deficit and predisposition to suicide and murder. According to some of the most recent research, the transgender suicide rate is up to 43%, and once every three days, a transgender person is murdered, with transgender women of color being the most likely victims.
Efforts to calculate and track transgender murder rates are often hindered by laws and data collection, therefore reported numbers may not be the best representations. Alongside these statistics come very scary legislation, such as House Bill 151 and HF 184 that allow the 'inspection' of young girls' genitals in an effort to keep transgender girls from participating in sports. There are also bathroom bills, pronoun and name bills, and medical care acts that are trying to strip away our rights. The huge dark cloud of oppression still hangs heavily over many transgender people within the United States and is much worse elsewhere in the world.
But, these are all reasons to be more prideful as well. Trans people have historically risen above and fought to be themselves- and admit the oppression, we will continue to do so unapologetically. So despite all the sorrowfully realities we face, we must take them in stride and use them for our pride, We need to keep them in mind not just to remember the reality but to be able to say, "This is what we deal with and yet, we use it to fuel our pride." Because the reality is that we are all making history just by existing and that is something to celebrate. So take pride in everything and for everyone, especially for those who may not be able to themselves. Pride month is a time to celebrate ancestors, self-discovery, friendship, and much more, so if you are able to, do so!
Activism has always and will continue to be a huge part of pride until there is equity for every minority group. So consider using these resources to continue your activism of change towards trans rights and equality. You can do so by contacting your legislators regarding your local anti-trans legislature. Or if you are able, donate to funds that support transgender persons legally! And if you're unable to do either and are in need of support, here are a few resources that may help: The Trevor project; 1-866-488-7386 Trans Life Line; 1-877-565-8860.
Author's Note: It is important to not only recognize and acknowledge the deep-rooted history that transgender individuals had in creating equal opportunities and rights for the LGBTQ+ community but also recognize the deep-seated oppression that continues to plague the transgender community today, despite best efforts towards equality, justice, and freedom. When discussing Pride Month or any celebration of LGBTQ+ individuals, give credit where credit is due.
- 5 Things That Happen When People Come Out as Trans - OutVoices ›
- Transgender Representation in Media - OutVoices ›
The Transgender Pride flag waving on top of a building.www.flickr.com
Transgender representation in media has increased over the past decade. This means incredible headway with trans actresses/actors in front-facing roles and as political leaders! Yet, is all the spotlight good for transgender individuals overall? Often representation in the media is not all sunshine and rainbows. And surely that means that not all press is good press. And with this increase, as it was a decade or so ago for gay media, there is a lot of focus on tragedy or tragic elements of transgender experiences.
Specifically, the huge uptake in reporting of transgender women of color being murdered or having hate crimes committed against them throughout the United States capitalizes on the terrible events these women have experienced. And the audacity of some media companies not even gendering victims correctly or even acknowledging it as a tragedy! It’s a paradoxical thing to be represented within the media and this breakdown aims to expose the good, the bad, and the ugly.
X made up of check marksPhoto by 愚木混株 cdd20 on Unsplash
Not all representatives in media are true to what it means to be transgender. Nor do they always convey what it feels like to be trans. It’s incredibly hard to generalize the thoughts, ideas, and feelings of a group of people, but it’s even harder to misrepresent them as a whole. Usually, the misrepresentation is coming from cisgender people spreading misinformation or weighing in on transgender issues as if their opinion was as important as a trans person’s. But there are some bad apples among us as well that do the same. Like Caitlyn Jenner, who had a failed political run and is planning another on an anti-transgender campaign.
If you don’t know the timeline of Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out and transition, it’s imperative to go over the facts to better understand the full story and how detrimental her ideas are to the transgender population. But it’s not just her taking a toll on how people perceive being transgender. Other famous people like Lil Nas X, while creating more awareness, also did a great job of misrepresenting and creating negative perceptions around pregnant transgender men. It’s cases like these where, with no transgender representation backing the ideas, when a lot of backlash and misunderstanding come from both sides.
Check mark made up of x'sPhoto by 愚木混株 cdd20 on Unsplash
It’s not all bad though. There are many advocates, political leaders, and famous people who do a great job of taking on the difficult task of representing the transgender community with accuracy and poise. Actor Elliot Page has put in the work to share his experience on a personal level that helps not only out trans people, but closeted ones as well. And State Senator Sarah McBride does so in a much more intense way, as she puts herself in front of some of the most influential cisgender white men in the United States to advocate for us all.
Next are the ones who have dedicated their profession and life to helping the transgender community; this comes in many forms but notably are the mental health professionals who have been combating some of the worst things transgender people can experience. Then, on a much smaller scale, no-name advocates share their stories, experiences, and lives with others with the optimism of spreading hope to those who are currently struggling. It’s not a long list, nor is it extensive and comprehensive of all the amazing advocates, actresses/actors, and transgender individuals who faithfully represent what it means to be transgender.
There are bad representatives, there are good ones, and then there are the media that convey them. It’s in this conduit that things can get muddled and a paradox appears (and even if it is crystal clear, things can still be misconstrued). The paradox appears in many situations – on TV, in the news, or in general media. Mainly it happens due to lack of thought but not always. The paradox itself? It’s the representation that can possibly have positive outcomes and maybe even have the best intentions, but also produce its own set of negative ones alongside. A perfect example of this can be seen on the big screen in many TV shows and movies.
Cisgender (and sometimes transgender) people will play characters such as ‘transvestites’, ‘trannies’, or ‘trans sex workers'. While these characters could be perfectly and historically accurate, sometimes the needed discussion to make things clear and accurate does not happen. Often these representations stay in the category of misrepresentations. Not all transgender individuals are sex workers and have a life of heavy drug abuse, criminal activity, and promiscuous encounters. And starting conversations about transgender individuals is great! Except when there are no trans people to speak for themselves. This happens a lot, more than is helpful. News outlets will report on hate crimes without doing the due diligence of researching their ‘story’ about a trans person. So yes, it’s good that there is this exposure to start the dialogue, but without the much need for trans voices to set records straight or clarify, the good often results in the bad as well.
How Do You Get Proper Transgender Representation?
Well, a start is to put transgender voices, works, and ideas at the forefront of the conversations. Not only that but there must be more opportunities given to do so because we can talk, write, and spread our thoughts all we want but without a platform, most of the time, it is unfruitful. Moreover, the conversations and platforms need more than just to advocate- they need to help insight the change we want to see. You can put us on TV all you want but if you’re not backing us up by supporting our cause in other forms, your advocacy is really just for show. It’s kind of like homophobic brands making merchandise for pride – you can say you support us all you want and still put a ton of money into anti-LGBTQ campaigns. Education needs to go hand in hand with conversations and support.
There are a lot of changes that happen to trans people over the course of their lifetime, but some of the most difficult or impactful ones can come at the very beginning of their transition. The experience of coming out is a unique one for every person who has to go through it, but it can be a very happy or relieving time as well. Here are just a few examples of the very long list of things that can happen to trans people when they come out.
1. Social Norms Change In Many Ways
Society projects expectations of masculinity when you come out as a trans man.
Whether you come out as a trans (binary) person or nonbinary, you should know that your social norms will change in many ways. The world, especially in western culture, is unfortunately very binary when it comes to gender and aggressively forces these concepts upon anyone. When you come out as transgender, you may begin to notice those around you who are supportive (and sometimes even if they aren’t) will start assigning you roles matching your presenting or identified gender—whether they do this intentionally or subconsciously will vary widely.
For example, noticeable changes for transgender males can look like many of the things that we had previously been exempted from. Shaking hands instead of giving hugs as a greeting, the unspoken rules of the guy code, and a noticeable effort to try to mold into a more culturally masculine role. This is not to say that you should be expected or have to do these things, but it is definitely something that is noticed and almost seems expected after coming out.
2. Confidence Levels Will Boost
After you come out as trans—and especially if you have a sound support system around you—you'll be able to live a more authentic you! As time goes on, you will notice that confidence levels were boosted dramatically due to gender affirmations socially, emotionally, and physically.
This can happen in a lot of ways for transgender men. You may have started to speak up more often, given a new wave of pride and confidence in yourself. This may also be partly because societal norms expect men to have something to say, but it can also just feel more comfortable speaking your mind in front of people and showing them your true self for the first time. For others, this could be manifest in wearing that outfit you thought was daring, or maybe it's walking with your head a little higher because others are seeing you more as you have seen yourself. Whatever it is, own it! You didn’t spend all of that time in the closet for nothing!
3. Mental and Emotional Health Changes Will Occur
Find friends who will support you as you come out as trans.
One of the very fluid things that happen once you come out is your mental health changes. This one is truly dependent on your unique experience coming out of the closest and the people you have around you. Many transgender people experience A LOT of backlashes; not only from family and friends but from the community legislatures and politicians alike.
But many are able to build a strong support system around themselves or create a new family they truly connect with and feel like they belong in. Doing this will help your mental health in many ways: you no longer have to feel so alone and you do not have to bear all the weight of your coming out experience alone. There were definitely things, people, and situations where your mental health could plummet, and you'll have to rely on others to be strong for you as well as encouraging. Other times you could be so relieved and affirmed because of your coming out that you think nothing could ever stop you from being so happy.
However your coming out experience goes, and no matter the ups and downs that come along with it, always find and lean on those who support you.
4. Awkward Questions Trans People Were Asked
Questions like the following lead to painfully awkward conversations that felt more like interrogations. And yes, these are all real questions that have been asked to transgender people. One thing you should prepare for is all of the absurd, awkward, and straight-up dumb questions people have the gall to ask you. Granted, some of them will be very respectful, such as which pronouns you prefer to use or what name you’d like to be called, but most are pretty ignorant.
- “Why did they call you she/he/they instead of _____?”
- “Wait, I thought you were ___ gender?”
- "What name did you choose?” or “Why did you choose that name?”
- “What do your parents think of you coming out?”
- “Wait, so are you lesbian/gay now?”
It is always shocking to get asked these questions when you come out to them, even if they were trying to come from a good place. The thing trans people have to keep in mind is that most cis people haven't spent hours on YouTube scrolling and watching transgender content to understand all the lingo and processes. Hell, many of them have probably never even read about a transgender person or anything related anywhere. They weren't doing such in-depth research to find ourselves in the mess of humanity.
So, keeping this in mind, remember there are going to be a lot of awkward questions as soon as you come out as trans because people are clueless. You may be the first out transgender person people you know have ever met. Many people don’t even know someone who knows an out trans person. It’s a sad reality, but education and experience just aren't reaching the general public.
With that said, it’s not your job to be the educator—whether you will or won't be is your decision—and anyone who makes you feel like you have to is not really there for you. There are plenty of resources that anyone can access, just like you probably did, to learn more about the ins and outs of what it means to be trans. They can put in the effort just as easily as you did. But, if you feel safe and want to engage, educating a friend or family member about your specific situation can be helpful.
5. Inappropriate Questions Trans People Were Asked
Questions that make us facepalm are as old as time—and they're unfortunately common when you come out as trans.
In addition to all of the awkward things that people are going to ask, you will definitely have someone (or more) around you who has no sense of social boundaries. You’ll also probably have someone around you who thinks that because you’re coming out to them, then they immediately get to know every small, intimate, and personal detail about you. These will be harder to deal with, not just because of the content but because it truly reveals the type of person you are talking to, which can cause problems.
- “So what’s in your pants?”
- “How do you have sex?”
- “When are you going to have surgery?” or “How are you going to have sex after surgery?” or “What are your genitals going to look like?!?”
- "When do you plan to start hormones?”
- “So if you’re not a transvestite, what’s the difference?”
Again, these are all very awkward and, this time, inappropriate questions that have actually been asked to transgender people. Again, even if they are well-intentioned, inappropriate questions can and will come with terrible timing. When someone was forced to come out to their mom, she immediately asked them if they were going to stop shaving their pubic hair. Because that’s the most important thing she needed to know at that moment. It is a terrible feeling to be put on the spot and feel like you have to think of an appropriate answer, even when there is none!
The best advice to be given regarding this is to tell someone they are being inappropriate, and it’s not your job to educate or explain why it’s inappropriate either. If they can’t understand why questions like those are inappropriate to ask anyone, not just you, then there is a lot more going wrong on their end that they need to work through. But overall, don’t let the complete idiocy of people get you down when you come out as trans.
Love Yourself and Come Out on Your Terms
While this is not an exhaustive list of all of the experiences and changes that a trans person will be faced with during their coming out, these are a few good things to keep in mind and prepare for when deciding when and how to start to come out as trans. It’s also good to remember that everyone has a completely different and individual perspective on life. That means that some of these things may not be applicable to a trans person during their coming out or that it may be a lot more or less extreme than described. Just remember that you should never be ashamed to be yourself—and make sure to come out when and how it's best for you. Coming out is difficult, so be proud of yourself for starting that journey, even if it's only with yourself right now!
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- Trans men and women experience sexual assault, too - OutVoices ›
- How Trans Chefs Are Changing Bad Kitchen Culture - OutVoices ›
Five years ago, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements called out top chefs and personalities for perpetrating alleged sexual harassment and abuse and for allowing the behavior to thrive in their hyper-masculine restaurant kitchens.
But did the movement improve kitchens for LGBTQ chefs, especially transgender chefs?
OUTvoices spoke with trans chefs about their experiences working in restaurants and commercial kitchens recently. Many of the chefs said kitchen environments are starting to change, but it depends on the leadership which is why many of these chefs have struck out on their own. They've opened restaurants, catering businesses, and food products to create the kitchens of their dreams: nurturing and supportive environments where the trans and queer people feel safe and can thrive cooking up their culinary creations.
Acceptance in Nontraditional Kitchens
Acceptance in fine dining to fast-food restaurants is hard to come by for many trans restaurant workers, especially in the kitchen.
It is unknown how many trans chefs work in kitchens. Statistics about the number of LGBTQ chefs, let alone trans chefs, and their experiences working in restaurants to commercial kitchens do not exist. There are only a few articles highlighting trans chefs.
Many trans chefs said they found acceptance in nontraditional kitchens, such as food banks or vegetarian or vegan restaurants. When they aspired to broaden their skills and horizons in fine dining or at chain restaurants, acceptance became hard to come by.
Trans chefs echo each other when they talk about their experiences in the kitchen. Some trans and gender-nonconforming kitchen staff are able to hide behind their aprons, but for others, especially trans women, it's not so simple. Many trans women chefs talk about not being allowed to be comfortable in their gender identity at work with managers denying them to wear makeup or dresses. Some talked about being groped in the kitchen and enduring anti-transgender comments and jokes.
Finding Yourself and Being ComfortableRestauranteurs chef Telly Justice, right, and sommelier Camille Lindsley, left, are about to open New York’s first-ever queer fine dining restaurant, Hags.Photo Credit Courtesy of Hags
Trans chef Telly Justice found community, herself, and a career at vegetarian and vegan cafes in the South before venturing into fine dining.
"It was like a Petri dish for growth and development as a person," said Justice, 35, who started out at the age of 18 with no culinary skills. Born and raised outside of Philadelphia, she fled to South Carolina working in vegetarian kitchens before making the leap to fine dining working her way up in kitchens in Savannah and Atlanta before ultimately landing in New York.
Justice is now a restauranteur about to open Hags, a queer fine dining restaurant in New York, with her business and life partner sommelier Camille Lindsley, a 29-year-old queer woman.
Justice said the warm and welcoming environment she found in the vegetarian restaurants quickly faded once she entered fine dining to build her culinary chops.
"I wanted to grow. I wanted to learn more," she said. "I didn't see how my identity in these spaces would be handled any differently.
"It was very shocking to me moving into these fine dining establishments," Justice said. Being out and proud expressing her transness and queerness "was very, very, very discouraged."
Then there were the anti-trans and queer comments by her co-workers.
"I would say a lot of the transphobia and homophobia that I experienced was not necessarily pointed or specific to me. It was cultural due to the nature of the work," she said beginning to cry as she recalled moments. "The space is so profoundly oriented to straight men, that they don't even consider what their actions do to other people. For them, it's all in fun. It's this boys club. I don't think that they are actively aware of the damage that male bonding does to people that are not straight, white men."
Yet, she doesn't believe the abuse was done maliciously calling the harshest abuses "accidental abuses" that happened while she was in the room.
The lack of awareness and hostility wears on LGBTQ people, especially trans people, making many trans chefs walk away from the hospitality industry.
"It's incredibly difficult to stay in this career field for over a decade when every day you just know that you're going to be the only person in the room who looks like you," Justice said.
Abuse in Commercial Kitchens
Marino Benedetto, nonbinary chef, founder, and owner of Yeah Dawg, vegan hot dogs
Photo credit: Heather Cassell
Restaurant kitchens aren't the only kitchens trans chefs experience harassment. Some commercial kitchens in the food industry are rife with similar abuse.
Marino Benedetto, 39-year-old nonbinary chef, founder, and owner of Yeah Dawg, vegan hot dogs, in Brooklyn was relieved when the commercial kitchen he operated out of closed in 2020.
Benedetto entered the culinary world by working in restaurants when he was 18-years old.
"When I first started working in restaurants, it was so much worse than it is now," Benedetto told OUTvoices about enduring sexual harassment.
Once he complained to a woman supervisor about a "guy touching my ass" in the kitchen. Her response was, "Oh, that's just how they are. They don't mean anything by it. Just don't let it get to you, he said.
"As a queer kid, it was horrible," Benedetto said about the harassment on top of the 60-hour workweek, low pay, and no benefits.
"I did it for a bunch of years and all it did was burn me out and made me unhealthy," Benedetto told OUTvoices.
Benedetto was able to get the work-life balance he desired when he launched Yeah Dawg in 2013. But he didn't get away from sexist and anti-trans harassment in the kitchen despite hoping the environment in a commercial kitchen would be different. He was harassed for being transgender by other business owners working in the kitchen as he transitioned with no support from the kitchen's management.
"They would make fun of me like, 'Oh, you have a mustache now,'" he said. "They would say things like 'We like lesbians when they look like women, but when they look like that. It's not cute.'"
After six years, Benedetto found a better commercial kitchen, that is all-vegan, and is more aligned with his values.
"It's just a different environment. It feels great. I feel better having staff working there," he said about not wanting his staff to experience the harassment he endured. "It's been a long road. Now, I'm happy where we're at."
Finding Harmony in the Kitchen
In the kitchen cooking up vegetarian delights, restaurateur and chef Nat
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Café Flora
Trans chefs following their passion into the heat of the kitchen is a struggle for many, but it isn't every trans chef's experience.
Trans chef Nat Stratton-Clarke, who owns Café Flora's family of bakeries and restaurants in Seattle, had positive experiences.
A Berkeley native, Stratton-Clarke, worked in kitchens starting at Ann Walker Catering in Marin in the San Francisco Bay Area when he was 16-years old. He continued working in kitchens when he headed East for college at Hampshire College in Western Massachusetts. Studying social justice, Stratton-Clarke thought his love for food was going to be a hobby, not a career path, but the pull of the kitchen was too strong. He continued to work in kitchens in Massachusetts and in New York before settling in Seattle. Stratton-Clarke started working for Café Flora, one of America's first vegetarian restaurants and a popular local spot in Seattle's Madison Valley neighborhood, and eventually was given the opportunity to own the nearly 30-year-old restaurant.
"It was Cafe Flora that really made me realize that I can actually do both," said Stratton-Clarke, who didn't always have an easy time in the kitchen. "I can be part of the culinary world and participate in social justice movements. You can combine your loves."
Stratton-Clarke told OUTvoices before becoming the owner of Café Flora and its siblings The Flora Bakehouse and Floret, at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, he worked in kitchens that were unaccepting and accepting that he is transgender, he said.
"Definitely, being trans in this industry has had its challenges and kitchens can definitely be a challenging place to be," said Stratton-Clarke who admitted he worked in some kitchens where "it was really, really hard" and other kitchens where "they were totally great."
What made the biggest difference for him in the kitchen was accepting himself.
"For me, it was a huge moment of accepting who I am," he said. "It also made me able to follow my passions and be the person that I am today."
Trans Chef Chris Trapani, left, owner of Urban Cowboy Catering serving his culinary creations at an event.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Urban Cowboy Catering
Trans chef Chris Trapani, who owns Urban Cowboy food truck in Austin, also had a positive experience in the most unlikely place when he transitioned, he told Eater. He was 30-years old at the time and working for an Alabama-based company.
Alabama is making headlines for passing anti-trans bills to block trans youth from obtaining hormone blockers and a surprise "Don't Say Gay" amendment to a transgender bathroom bill April 7. Alabama still doesn't have an anti-discrimination law like many states. Until 2020, when the Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act includes protecting LGBTQ employees, transgender people could still be fired for being trans as well as their gay, lesbian, and bisexual peers. The Equality Act is still making its way through Congress.
"I didn't know how they were going to react, or if they would understand," but his employer and clients supported him, Trapani told Eater.
It was long before he became the first known transgender chef to appear on the Food Network's "Chopped: Great Food Truck Race" in the United States in 2014. Four years later he took India by storm as a guest of Indian gay-owned hospitality leader LaLit Hotels, Palaces, and Resorts developing the concept for the LaLit Food Truck Company and appeared on India's Food Network.
Learning to Grow While Staying in Your Hometown
Some trans chefs aren't leaving their hometowns to find acceptance and community in big cities but forging a path in the places they grew up.
Trans chef and writer Stacy Jane Grover wrote an essay about fellow trans chef, who she only identified as Astrid, and her experiences in the kitchen in Bitch Magazine last year.
The Appalachian Ohio trans chefs found themselves and their calling in the kitchen and decided to stay in their local community rather than striking out to the big city.
Grover escaped the transphobia of her high school early into culinary school. Astrid escaped directly into the kitchen.
Grover found she could hide her body behind the androgynous apron and focus on developing her cooking skills. It eventually allowed her to come out to the support of her classmates.
"Cooking taught me that my body-one that had produced only shame and confusion-could produce joy," Grover wrote.
Like Grover, Astrid explained, "In the kitchen, I fit in."
Astrid learned that she could be accepted for her abilities through criticism, hard work, camaraderie, teamwork, and how to speak up for herself in the kitchen.
The kitchen is where both trans women chefs found confidence in their cooking skills and the ability to be themselves at work.
Despite harassment and not feeling like they could be out trans women in their towns, Astrid explained to Grover that she never considered leaving her community, her family, and the regional restaurant scene.
"I never really thought to go anywhere else. Any type of restaurant and any level of service from casual to fine dining can be found here. This is where I'm from, so why would I leave?" Astrid said.
Grover returned to Appalachian Ohio after culinary school and discovered by creating her culinary career where she was born and raised that, "Food has reconnected me with a place I thought had shunned me," she wrote.
These chefs along with other queer chefs struck out on their own to shape and redefine harsh abusive kitchen environments in their own vision. Their audacity and bravery as well as the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements five years later are inspiring changes for some fine dining and chain restaurants' kitchens to extend hospitality beyond guests to staff.
Increasingly queerer and kinder kitchens are rising across the country. Small restaurants to bigger restaurant brands kitchens are envisioning and modeling a more hospitable and supportive environment for staff in the back and front of the house.
How to Make Sure Everyone Feels SafeYou belong.Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Chef Surbhi Sahni, queer owner of Tagmo in New York, says she's creating a safe space for LGBTQ people of color to work in the restaurant industry. She is doing that by allowing staff the "freedom to be themselves" but beyond that having "respect for wherever they are," in their personal and professional journey, she said.
Executive Chef Hillary Sterling at Ci Siamo, restauranteur Danny Meyer's latest addition to the Union Square Hospitality Group's fine dining establishments in New York City, is happy to be an out lesbian chef.
Her presence "really kind of shows people that it is possible" to be a leader as a gay woman. Part of that is "making sure that our community feels safe and comfortable," she said fully aware that her team attracts other talented queer people and women.
"A lot of people do want to come here because it is a safe environment, they can be who they are, and free," Sterling said noting that it is just as important to welcome staff like welcoming guests to the restaurant. "The hospitality industry is about welcoming guests into your business just as much welcoming your team and giving them that same service and support as you would any guest."
Word is spreading. Employees at Hags and Yeah Dawg come from word of mouth, Benedetto and Justice said. Tagmo has optimized community service and social media posting employment listings on the Facebook group, Queer-Friendly NYC Employment Opportunities, to attract employees.
"I've only worked with a handful of trans cooks in my entire career and I would say predominantly they are all in the past two years," said Justice, who is excited to work with the restaurant's queer and trans staff. "So, to see that happening at all is just an absolute revelation for me in my career."
Hags and Tagmo in New York, Kismet in Los Angeles, and Café Flora in Seattle to Ci Siamo are leading the way. Bigger brands, such as sandwich chain Panera Bread, and Mexican franchise El Pollo Loco, are also paving the path forward.
Things are changing for the better, while a disconnect between leadership and workers continues the calls for more equitable and dignified workplaces are starting to be heard.
"The work is emerging it's still being pushed towards a place of equitability," Justice said. She believes a watershed moment for inclusion in the kitchen is coming, but "we're still like very far away."
To push the movement forward faster, Justice said she would love to see white male chefs to stand up for trans and queer chefs and kitchen workers.
"I would love to see them kind of taking the gauntlet and paving a path for people that don't look like them or occupy a different space," she said.
How to Find Support for Inclusive Workplaces
Support is available for restaurants and commercial kitchens to become more welcoming and inclusive for LGBTQ employees, including nonbinary gender workers, through New York-based HospitableMe and Los Angeles-based TransCanWork.
Founded in 2016 by trans woman Michaela Mendelsohn, TransCanWork has provided 500 employers and 2,500 job-seekers throughout the United States with the training to ensure comfortable work environments for gender-expansive employees and guests.
TransCanWork calls transgender, gender-variant and intersex people TGI.
Mendelsohn is familiar with the restaurant industry and TGI people's struggles in the industry. She owns and manages six El Pollo Loco franchises in Southern California, reported the New York Times. She has hired 50 trans employees, most of them women of color, at her restaurants over the last several years.
Mendelsohn also worked to make cultural sensitivity training to recognize anti-LGBTQ harassment California law, with Senate Bill (SB) 396 in 2017. Then California Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law which went into effect in 2018