Erin Emily Dwyer, a transsexual and a former Yale dining hall employee, currently works as a waitress at a truck stop. She finds more acceptance from the truck drivers there than she ever received from the management or administration at Yale, she said Tuesday.
Dwyer was fired in December 2002 from the Morse/Stiles dining hall and is now in the process of suing the University for harassment. One of the demands in her case is that Yale create more fair policy for the treatment of transgendered people.
The alleged harassment ranges from verbal abuse to discrimination by co-workers and supervisors. During Dwyer’s transition from male to female — which is not yet complete, because without a University job, Dwyer said she cannot pay for the medical procedures — the harassment became more apparent, she said.
“It was horrendous and it was totally unacceptable by both management and union people,” Dwyer said. “They refused to work with me. They denied me opportunities for employment.”
University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said Yale does not believe Dwyer’s accusations have factual support. Yale is currently defending against her charges, Robinson said.
“We do not believe that the actions she has complained about were discriminatory,” Robinson said. “Yale successfully defended an arbitration last summer on her grievance, and we believe we will similarly succeed in defending her other charges.”
Dwyer attributed her treatment at Yale to what she said is a prejudiced attitude toward transgendered people at the University. Throughout her time at Yale, none of her managers or Yale administrators responded to her complaints of harassment, she said.
A public hearing of Dwyer’s case will begin on July 19.
Dwyer said she wants to hold Yale accountable for damages, but she also wants to make sure that the University does not discriminate against other transgendered people in the future. She sees her fight against Yale as a way to encourage others in similar situations to take action, she said.
“If I’m successful, it will encourage others,” Dwyer said. “It’s not just a personal fight, it’s a cause.”
Members of the Queer Political Action Committee will meet Wednesday with Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg to discuss improving upon Yale’s current policy regarding trans issues, Special Events Coordinator for the Yale Women’s Center Loren Krywanczyk ’06 said.
While some students may sympathize with Dwyer, Krywanczyk said, she wonders how successful Dwyer will be facing a “big name” such as Yale in court.
Dwyer said she was unable to find a lawyer who would take her case, forcing her to pursue the case on her own with some help from the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
“Generally the reaction has been sympathy among people of other minority groups here but also a sense of hopelessness as far as the hearing is concerned,” Krywanczyk said. “Yale has money and big names generally win.”
But Dwyer said she is confident that she will be successful and she hopes to return to work at Yale once she wins the suit.
“I think that’s the most important thing – not to allow Yale to get away with it,” Dwyer said. “And just quitting would’ve allowed Yale to get away with it.”
When Dwyer heard about Yale’s transgender week, she contacted Krywanczyk. The purpose of the week was to build awareness about trans issues, and its activities focused on using personal accounts to make trans issues more relatable, Krywanczyk said.
“It’s important for individual stories to be expressed,” Krywanczyk said. “You really need to start close to home.”
While Krywanczyk said she is not a spokesperson for Dwyer, she said she did agree to spread the story of Dwyer during transgender week.
“It ties into my mission to make Yale a more trans- and genderly-diverse place,” Krywanczyk said.