lgbt discrimination

California Restaurants Have Started the Nation’s First Transgender Jobs Program

Restaurateur Michaela Mendelsohn is trying to expand her trans-friendly business model statewide. Photo: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Los Angeles LGBT Center

Prejudice and other myriad injustices are as rampant in today’s hospitality industry as ever, but things are at least looking up for California’s trans community, thanks to a new program started by an activist-restaurateur and the state’s biggest restaurant association.

The California Trans Workplace Project is the country’s first serious attempt at helping transgender people find jobs. Discrimination in the workplace is one reason their unemployment rate hovers around twice that of other Americans, and organizers argue this new program is primed to handle that: It’s the brainchild of Michaela Mendelsohn, an El Pollo Loco franchise owner whose entrepreneurial savvy got her a gig as Laverne Cox’s consultant on Orange Is the New Black. She’s been actively hiring trans employees since 2012, and says that “8 to 10 percent” of her 150-person workforce is now transgender. Through the project, the California Restaurant Association is hoping its 22,000 members can learn to replicate her trans-friendly model, calling larger-scale success “a civil rights issue.”

Participating restaurants get a certification from the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and there’s a grant that can pay for 60 hours of new hirees’ wages. Part of the program also includes all-important training on properly managing customers who won’t interact with a trans server, although Mendelsohn tells NPR she’s never had this problem at her six El Pollo Loco locations, so it sounds like that segment’s pretty short: “You always hear the thing, ‘The customer’s always right’? In my restaurants, the customer’s always right unless they attack you personally.”

California Restaurants Launched a Transgender Jobs Program