Strengthening Transgender Access to Jobs in Brazil: educaTRANSforma Supports the Whole Person

The transgender movement has created a cascade of coming-out, not least in Brazil, where researchers found that 0.69% of the population identifies as transgender, and 1.19% as non-binary. Employers in Brazil, as elsewhere, have also realized that creating safe spaced for transgender and non-binary people can tap a vibrant workforce.

educaTRANSforma, supported by a grant from the Linux Professional Institute, is throwing a lifeline to transgender people. We’ll look at the inspiring story of educaTRANSforma in this article.

What They’re Dealing with: Conditions for Transgender People in Brazil

Many transgender people are bullied and threatened with violence at school, or mistreated in many other ways that deny their identity. If they are rejected by their families, they often end up living on the streets with negative consequences on their education. Such neglect, in combination with similiar discrimination by employers or fellow employees, prevent a lot of transgender people from obtaining stable, professional jobs..

According to Noah Scheffel, CEO and founder of educaTRANSforma, 90% of Brazilian transgender people have resorted to sex work to stay alive. Murder rates of transgender people are extremely high. (In the United States, too, alarming numbers of transgender and non-binary people die each year, mostly people of color.) Under such dire conditions, it’s not surprising that drug abuse and suicide are also common.

Despite intense transphobia (rejection and violence against transgender people) in Brazil, many companies have adopted diversity, inclusion, and equality (DIE) campaigns to employ and support marginalized parts of the society, including transgender people. There are opportunities for transgender people, but they need the education to get jobs.

The students also need more than education, according to Scheffel: they need support for entering workplaces. Despite consultations with employers, there will be employees who treat the transgender employees poorly or ignore their basic dignity with aggressive acts such as challenging their right to use the public bathrooms. educaTRANSforma offers support for its students during their emotional and physical journeys, while advising companies about how to respect their rights.

Scheffel formed educaTRANSforma after being severely rejected in his own job. He was already a manager in his high-tech firm, with a tenure that had lasted 10 years, when he transitioned. But the reaction of his coworkers and managers was nasty.

At the same time, Scheffel realized that computing—and open source software in particular—provided an entry point into the workplace for marginalized people. The costs of learning computer skills are modest, compared for instance to medical training, which requires labs and experience in clinical settings. People who have been excluded from mainstream schools and colleges can learn skills without getting official degrees. (Only 0.02% of people who identify as transgender in Brazil attend college, and few know English at the level most companies require.)

Finally, computing is congenial to some transgender programmers and administrators because they can thrive without playing a public role where they might continually encounter and have to deal with people who express transphobic views.

Founding and Building educaTRANSforma

Scheffel launched educaTRANSforma shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic required physical distancing. educaTRANSforma was working in a local computing center known as a “technology park,” providing labs with computer systems for where students without access to computers or the internet could study. When distancing requirements were imposed, the organization started remote training.

LPI offered a grant at that point, and helped educaTRANSforma find other donors as well. An LPI partner donated free training. educaTRANSforma collected computers discarded by other organizations and set them up with GNU/Linux and other free software for students.

Victória Cristine Corotto, whom I also interviewed for this article, was the first student of educaTRANSforma. She helped the organization work on its methods and has stayed active in it after graduating.

She is now working at a major computer company, coding an online interface in JavaScript for Human Resources. She also started working on her employer’s diversity efforts, after having been there only two weeks. She emphasized how grateful she was to educaTRANSform, and that she wants many other people to benefit from it.

Progress and the Path Ahead

So far, 87% of the students graduating from educaTRANSforma have gotten hired. To maintain the supportive community that can give them the strength to face transphobia and difficult conditions at work, educaTRANSforma has a private portal. People share information about job openings and form supportive groups in the portal. Graduates also recruit other transgender people in their circles or “trans families” to join the program.

To explain what the new workforce needs, educaTRANSforma is acting as a consultant to interested companies.

Does educaTRANSforma have advice for people who want to set up similar organizations in other countries, or for organizations working with other marginalized populations? Scheffel and Corotto stress the importance of the support network.

They also say that hiring companies need to work hard to make sure that their diverse workforces are supported after hiring—nobody should have to go through what Scheffel suffered at his job, or even the micro-aggressions and misunderstandings Corotto has encountered at her new position.

Companies may also have to support transgender people by offering some of the training—in the English language, for instance—that other employees got in school and college, because these institutions often fail to accept and educate transgender people. 

To support educaTRANSforma’s work (sites are in Portuguese):

Noah is a social transformation agent. He is the first transgender person to become a LinkedIn influencer. He is the mother of a daughter and the father of another one. He is the founder and CEO of educaTRANSforma, the biggest Brazilian free professional education project, which also provides consultancy on employability for transgender people in technology and innovation.

Victória is fight, survival, resistance. She is a transgender person, LGBTQIAP+ activist, the first student of educaTRANSforma and now CHRO (chief human resources officer) of the project. She is a software developer focused on using technology as a means of inclusion and access to all people.

About Andrew Oram:

Andy is a writer and editor in the computer field. His editorial projects at O'Reilly Media ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. Andy also writes often on health IT, on policy issues related to the Internet, and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM (Brussels), DebConf, and LibrePlanet. Andy participates in the Association for Computing Machinery's policy organization, USTPC.

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