CEO’s Commitment to Advancing Trans Rights

The work we do at the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) is focused on helping people leaving incarceration to access jobs and careers. We celebrate diversity and build on every person’s strengths to help them reach their goals and access their full human potential; this unequivocally includes our transgender and gender-nonconforming staff, participants, and partners.

In May 2023, we convened our Trans Rights Working Group in response to a nationwide increase in discriminatory legislation targeting the rights of transgender & gender-nonconforming individuals. Transgender & gender-nonconforming people who are justice-impacted, especially people of color, contend with a multitude of barriers to a better life and are more vulnerable at this time. While the landscape of our work across 30 cities in 12 states touches many individuals who are members of groups that face historical and present-day oppression, recent events have highlighted the importance of continuing to protect the transgender & gender-nonconforming community.

The death of Nex Benedict, a transgender high school sophomore in Oklahoma who endured and stood up to consistent bullying by their peers, serves as another sad reminder of the daily struggle many trans people face. In Nex’s home state of Oklahoma, a state where CEO has two offices, there are over 50 bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community. These include anti-trans bills that seek to, among other things, ban gender-affirming care, prevent any government agency that collects data from using gender identification other than male or female, and deny students in school the ability to use the bathroom of their gender identity. Oklahoma is not unique in a growing effort to pursue policies that deny transgender people basic protections under the law.

Behind the prison and jail walls, trans people face high rates of harassment and physical assault and are often denied health care, including continuation of their hormone therapy. They may also be compelled to use their deadname (name given at birth) when interacting with staff or in official correspondences. A survey found that trans people of color are much more likely to be adversely impacted by the legal system. Post-release, trans people may be denied access to gender-affirming care and the ability to legally change their gender or name on official documents until they complete their probation or parole. These barriers complicate a trans person's ability to fully reclaim their freedom after incarceration and succeed.

We condemn violence of any sort that targets any group of individuals and threatens their ability to live safely, freely, and without fear. As an organization and as a country, we must continue to work to protect transgender & gender-nonconforming people and their right to live safely-- a right that should exist for everyone. We must continue to support protections for transgender and gender-nonconforming people who are incarcerated and/or reentering society as well as support their right to access health care, housing, and employment services that will assist them in moving forward with their lives.

We honor the memory of Nex Benedict and the far too many other transgender & gender-nonconforming individuals who have lost their lives simply for being who they were. As we remember them, let's commit to continue working for the day when we can all live as our authentic selves free from hatred and violence.