The new year is barely two months old, and Ariana Losco has already been through enough stress to last her for the rest of 2008.
In early January, Losco was fired after she spoke to an Associated Press reporter about harassment she had experienced while working at Rocky Mountain Care, a nursing home in Tooele. Losco, who is transgender, said that her shifts were cut and she was harassed when her co-workers discovered she had sexual reassignment surgery 13 years ago.
The day after the article appeared, the facility’s administrator Jonathan Bengeder fired her for “embarrassing the nursing home,” despite the fact that Losco had not named the facility in the story. In an extensive interview with QSaltLake, Losco also alleges that she was verbally and physically assaulted by a supervisor, and that her many complaints about the assaults went ignored.
Rocky Mountain Care declined to comment on Losco’s allegations, except to say they were a “private matter between two employees.”
After her termination, Losco worried about how to pay her bills and how to care for her disabled husband.
“I’m really depressed, as you can imagine,” she said at the time.
One month later, Losco said she is no longer depressed. Not only has she found a new job, she has also done something that means just as much to her: She has spoken out against anti-gay and anti-transgender discrimination.
“Until we get laws to protect us it’s still going on,” said Losco.
Along with speaking to the press about her story, Losco also testified before the state legislature in favor of HB 89. Sponsored by Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake city, this bill seeks to prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In speaking for the bill, Losco became the first openly transgender woman to testify on the Hill in Utah history.
“I don’t ask you to make my employer approve of my gender identity, but to make employers focus on what really counts,” she told members of the House Business and Labor Committee on Jan. 29.
The committee ultimately decided to hold the bill until its interim session in August.
Losco also said that her activism will not stop there. She said she will work to see that HB 89 is passed later this year.
“I’m hoping something comes of it, that they don’t just kill it on sight,” she said.
She also said she will speak up in support of a gay and transgender-inclusive hate crimes bill.
After a decade’s worth of attempts by several legislators, including most recently David Litvak, D-Salt Lake City, the Utah legislature passed a compromise hate crimes bill in the 2006 session. The bill replaced protected categories such as race, religion and sexual orientation with language that allows judges to consider an ‘aggravating factor’ at sentencing. In other words, judges are able to look at the impact a crime may have on a specific community, not on biases that may have provoked the crime. This change appeased lawmakers who opposed the bill on the grounds that it punished thoughts.
“[Criminals who commit hate crimes] will stay locked up longer,” Attorney General Mark Shurtleff told the Deseret Morning News on March 16, 2006. “That is a great tool for us … we’re going to put more than lip service to tolerance.”
But like other critics who argue that Utah’s current hate crimes law is toothless, Losco said it doesn’t go far enough. She added that the recent murder of Lawrence King, a gay California teenager who died after being shot by a classmate, has made securing such protections for gay and transgender people even more “urgent.”
“I do see vicious people attacking us, and until we’re included it [the hate crimes law] is not worth the paper it’s written on,” she said. “A law that doesn’t protect everyone is no law!”
Losco also said she isn’t giving up on holding her former employers accountable for their actions. At first, she said her attempts to seek legal help were dead ends. Six lawyers (including those with Lambda Legal) turned down her case because Utah law doesn’t protect transgender people from workplace discrimination. But now, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken up her case on the grounds that she also experienced sex discrimination.
“Federal law would protect me as a woman,” she said. “A pre-op [transgender person] would have no protection, but if you have the change they consider you a woman and you have all the rights of a woman.”
Losco said she would fight this for legal redress for “as long as it takes.”
“I’ll go all the way to the Supreme Court if I have to,” she said.
Tammi Hartman, the EEOC representative whom Losco said is handling her case, was out of town and unavailable for comment at press time.