"One of the greatest crises for transgender people in general is employment," ESPN writer/editor Christina Kahrl told an audience at an Egalite Chicago networking event for Advertising Professionals and Allies.
The eveningthe first of its kind for the Chicago chapter of the Publicis Groupe LGBT networkwas presented in partnership with the GLAAD Chicago Leadership Council and held at the Leo Burnett Room on December 12. Gay marketing professional Kevin Boyer was the interviewer for the program.
Kahrl is a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. In 1996, she co-founded Baseball Prospectus, a think tank that publishes analysis of the sport using statistics and is recognized as an industry thought leader. Her writing has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Playboy, Salon and others.
She is an openly transgender woman. Since coming out in 2003, Kahrl has been active in both the transgender communities and the push for equality. She sits on the boards of GLAAD, Equality Illinois, the Trans Life Center at the Chicago House, the You Can Play Project and the Nike LGBT Sports Coalition. She worked to secure the Chicago City Council resolution supporting LGBT athletes and, in 2011, helped launch the Chicago Area Trans-Friendly Bathroom Initiative.
Kahrl said she hopes to encourage employers to view transgender employees as capable co-workers, mentors and leaders. "We can be as effective as anybody else," she said. "We can create this positive message and lead by example."
She recalled coming out to her colleagues at Baseball Prospectus in 2003. "I was selling the fact that 'Guys, I've got a big secret and now it's not going to be a secret anymore,'" she remembered. "I didn't know how they were going to take it." Kahrl viewed the occasion as a "teaching moment", something she maintains all trans-people have to deal with throughout their lives. "It requires us to be really patient with people who may not get what it is to be trans," she said. "We have to win people over with the idea that 'I'm just going to show up and do the same job. I'm not changing who I am. I'm changing one aspect of what I am.'"
Kahrl won over both her colleagues at Baseball Prospectus and, eventually, the Baseball Writers Association of America. "When I was voted in, it was kind of a big deal," she said. "I got universally accepted by a group of overwhelmingly over-fifty, straight white men."
Kahrl said she believes this sends a message about the importance of sports as a cultural institution. "Sports is a safe topic. It's an effective bridge between people of so many different identity groups," she said. "I couldn't make up a better bridge to the straight word than to say 'I'm going to sit around and talk about baseball with you guys.'"
According to Kahrl, one of the great difficulties for transgender people in the workplace is the inability to keep their identities to themselves. "There is no such thing as stealth in my book," she said. "For me to come out was basically saying 'well you know, next week I'm going to be coming to work in a dress and there's a reason why my hair has been growing out.' You don't get to escape talking about it." Kahrl added that transgender people often have no choice but to out themselves. "If you are selfish and you want to keep relationships in your life, whether friends, family or colleagues or your career, you have to say 'I'm changing my name and gender.'"
However, she challenged transgender people to leave positive impressions on colleagues and the general public. "If I'm the first trans-person they've met, I don't want them to sit there and say 'I don't like these people. They're defensive and angry.' You can be polite and get people used to the idea that 'it's no big deal that I'm here.'"
Off stage, Kahrl told the Windy City Times that she hopes transgender people will take a more prolific role in LGBT activism. "We're almost always casting ourselves in the role of 'Debbie Downer' or being the ones who say 'What have you done for us lately?,'" she said. "Instead of demanding acceptance, you need to create acceptance through active collaboration and partnerships."
She challenged the transgender community to stop "othering" themselves. "We have a collective responsibility to each other to work together," she said. "It's about what we can do to change the dynamic."
Videos by Tracy Baim at the link: Christina Kahrl at Egalite Chicago 12-12-13 Part 1 of 2: www.youtube.com/watch .
And Part 2: