A moment fraught with both possibility and danger for educaTRANSforma

Three and a half years; more than 170 job offers—these raw numbers sum up the achievements of educaTRANSforma, a training and mentoring nonprofit for transgender people in Brazil. But hundreds of individual stories lie behind the statistics. Now that educaTRANSforma is facing new challenges in funding and staffing, some of these stories need to be told. Linux Professional Institute (LPI) is also part of the story.

We don’t need to repeat the overviews of educaTRANSforma and its visionary, insightful founder Noah Scheffel offered by my article six months ago on this blog or by a recent highlight  in Forbes International. As much as we’d like to build on those articles and promote a sunny view of a triumphant movement for justice, the truth, as always, is messier.

Carrying out the initial progress

I asked Scheffel how he decided there was a market for what he wanted to do when he started educaTRANSforma: to serve the large number of transgender people in his country who could be trained to enter the high tech workforce. Scheffel didn’t need much research, because he had experienced virulent discrimination and exclusion in his own company and the larger computer industry. He knew the conditions faced by transgender people. He could also see that many of transgender and nonbinary people couldn’t even get a basic education, much less technical training.

However, in 2019, companies were making noises about diversifying. Several were open to working with him to get transgender people into high-tech positions. Fewer offered funding to his nonprofit, but he managed to get started with educaTRANSforma, generously helped by an LPI grant.

Students evolved into teachers and mentors. It really takes a transgender person to understand the difficulties faced by other transgender people in society and the workplace. educaTRANSforma grew by adding its graduates as volunteer teachers, offering the students both technical instructions and guidelines for navigating workplaces that offered them jobs but failed to follow through. Many graduates faced confusion and open hostility from fellow employees, as well as a lack of accommodations once they started working.

educaTRANSforma’s funding model consists of charging companies to guide their managers and employees through all the education and accommodations they must make to provide a safe and welcoming setting. This “Trans Inclusion Journey” includes HR training, understanding the health needs of transgender employees, helping insecure employees feel comfortable, and more. Although the demand for educaTRANSforma’s training always exceeded what their funding provided, the organization did well during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An impressive 87% of educaTRANSforma graduates got professional jobs in computing. But sustaining the program became harder after the first three years. Scheffel had started to feel that conditions were good for a massive extension of educaTRANSforma in two ways: increasing the graduation rate to 10,000 in 2023, and addressing other professional jobs besides computing. But instead, a series of setbacks hit the organization in funding, placement, and recruitment.

Changing along with the landscape

Two major disasters in the organization’s environment had an impact: the election of a new government that believed there was no place for transgender and nonbinary people in the world, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The change of government coincided with more violence against transgender people, and a mainstreaming of transphobic hate. COVID-19, in contrast, had a mixed impact.

When the pandemic made physical distancing imperative, educaTRANSforma faced the instant challenge of moving all its operations online. As we’ll see later, they met this challenge with financial help from LPI.

Placing graduates during the shutdown was actually easier, because employers were also operating remotely. Therefore, employees’ public presentations and personal identities didn’t stand out as much. The discomfort and fear that many colleagues might feel against transgender and nonbinary people was softened when people showed up only in a six-millimeter wide rectangle on a screen.

As pandemic restrictions eased, companies brought workers back into offices, and the full force of discrimination and transphobia hit the transgender staff. Companies were suddenly cagey about hiring new transgender people—and also the women and racial minorities that the companies had promised to hire to promote diversity. When backtracking in hiring, the companies reduced their funding for educaTRANSforma as well.

educaTRANSforma was hit simultaneously with a crisis in recruiting teachers. After working for a short while, graduates seemed to forget the irreplaceable help educaTRANSforma had proffered to let them reach their current status. Most got busy at work and didn’t feel a need to “pay forward” and volunteer to train new students. Recently, Scheffel himself had to take a job outside the organization in order to preserve its funds, making it harder for him to direct the organization.

Linux Professional Institute’s role

Scheffel’s initial efforts to create educaTRANSforma came at a time with LPI itself was dedicating itself to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The board, like nearly all institutions in computing, consisted at that time mostly of straight, cis, white males. As you can see by viewing the current board, some progress in diversity has been made.

So LPI had its antennae out when Cesar Brod, a Brazilian LPI manager who is LPI’s Community Engagement Director for the Spanish and Portuguese Regions, heard about Scheffel’s project. After meeting with Scheffel and a cofounder, Brod decided to support them.

At that time, LPI had no formal grant program, but Brod scraped up some initial funding for educaTRANSforma’s move online, followed by more help after the grant program was started. LPI’s help was a seed that allowed educaTRANSforma to win grants from other sources as well.

Where can educaTRANSforma go from here?

Like some startups that face growing pains, educaTRANSforma can no longer creep along on the basis of volunteerism and good will. Money is needed for a permanent executive director and paid teachers.

The need for educaTRANSforma is pressing, and its graduates make real contributions to their companies and the Brazilian economy. But individuals throughout society need to become more aware of transgender people and how their differences strengthen all of us. Like dentists, educaTRANSforma is in the business of trying to put itself out of business.

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


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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