Years ago, Shelby Shallenberger decided to finally come out as as a transgender woman. She was raised as a boy, but Shelby knew for a long time that deep down, is is female, and so she was taking steps to transition to live every day as the woman she has long known herself to be. Shelby explained to the human resources director where she worked that she would be transitioning, she was told that the company would do everything possible to keep her safe. HR gave her a key to the only private bathroom in the main building and was given an “out of order” sign to hang on the door when she used the women’s restroom in other buildings. Shallenberger followed instructions at first, but she stopped using the sign because she “felt ridiculous” – no one else had to hang an “out of order” sign on the door, and she wasn’t asking for special treatment. She just wanted to be treated as all other women were. Eventually HR called her in and told she had to stop using the women’s restroom or lose her job. Shelby resigned and took another job but was intimidated by a coworker and felt unsafe.
Shelby does not regret her transition – but she does regret the significant discrimination she has faced as a result of intolerance, a lack of understanding, and insufficient legal protections from the state of Pennsylvania, which has the duty of protecting its citizens equally and fairly. “When you know what you have to do, you just do it,” she said about her transition. “But I never thought about how mean people could be.”
Photographs by Kristy Lumsden Photography