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Jobs, acceptance for thrift store’s transgender staff

The Castro Goodwill in San Francisco may be the nation’s first store designed as a jobs program for transgender workers. The Castro Goodwill in San Francisco may be the nation’s first store designed as a jobs program for transgender workers. (Noah Berger/ Associated Press)
Associated Press / November 29, 2010

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SAN FRANCISCO — Before Goodwill Industries opened its newest retail outlet here, no one would have argued that San Francisco had a shortage of thrift stores for its avid recyclers and trendy hipsters. What the city did lack was enough jobs for its transgender population.

So when a prime piece of commercial real estate languished vacant in the predominantly gay Castro district, activists and city officials saw an opportunity to put a dent in the problem.

The result is the nation’s first Goodwill, and perhaps the first store of any kind, designed as a jobs program for workers whose genders are different from the ones they had at birth.

Seven of the shop’s nine employees are transgender, most of them women who used to be men. The city’s transgender population has an unemployment rate thought to be twice the California average.

The employees were referred to Goodwill by the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative, a nonprofit training and employment service that also places workers with Macy’s, Trader Joe’s, Bank of America, and other supportive companies.

“I guess it’s fitting that we’re working in a place that’s based on the concept of ‘recycle and reuse,’ ’’ said Alexie Scanlon, 38, who was just promoted to assistant manager at the Castro Goodwill. “If you are born in the wrong body, you learn to make use of what you have.’’

In advance of the store’s October opening, the job trainees had to spend a week working at another San Francisco Goodwill, while area Goodwill staff underwent transgender antibias training to minimize misunderstandings over pronoun and restroom usage. For example, an employee presenting herself as a woman was to be addressed as she and directed to the women’s room, no questions asked.

The Castro location will close when the landlord, who has been letting Goodwill use the space for free, finds a paying tenant. Danielle Simmons, a spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin Counties, said the nonprofit hopes to use it as a model elsewhere, both for employing transgender workers and occupying retail spaces that might otherwise sit empty and invite crime.

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