Jessica Wilkins lives in the Cleveland area with her wife, Nicky. On any given evening you might find Jessica playing with her cats, Sammy and Benny or getting a mani/pedi with her group of friends. She and her wife love to watch movies together.
Jessica has become a public voice for LGBTQ equality, and transgender rights in particular.
Unfortunately, that journey has roots in difficult experiences. Jessica has experienced the chilling effects of discrimination at work.
While in her early twenties and attending Cleveland State University, she worked two jobs to make ends meet and pay for her education. One of those jobs was at a local English pub. You know the type: you can get a warm beer and an English breakfast, if that’s your thing.
It was at this job that Jessica, who is transgender, began to undergo hormone replacement therapy under the supervision of her doctor. At around this time, Jessica began to notice the climate at the pub was quite hostile to LGBTQ people.
One coworker “recounted the revulsion he experienced when he saw two men kissing in a park just west of Cleveland,” Jessica remembers. He went on to describe how he felt it was his responsibility to tell those two men that they needed to leave the park.
The story went on. “He punched one of them, right in the face. He broke his nose.” Her head swam. “I knew at that moment that I could never safely transition at the pub,” she recalls.
Despite needing the money, Jessica made the decision that it was best for her not transition at the pub. She put in her resignation shortly after and explained that she was quitting her job in fear.
She still had her other job working in the kitchen at a bakery, she figured. Maybe she could get more hours there.
As she progressed in her transition, she began to become more publicly herself. She began to present in more feminine ways, and she was growing out her hair.
Soon after, the bakery implemented a policy that was clearly aimed at Jessica: male employees must have short hair, and women can have longer hair if they wish.
Jessica explained to her boss that she was transgender. “I told him that I would soon be living and presenting fully as a woman.”
The response was swift. Her boss told her that they do not hire Jessica’s “kind” of people. Jessica called the corporate office and was told the exact same thing again.
“I was distraught. In just a few weeks, the harsh realities of transphobia became apparent,” Jessica said.
Now, Jessica has turned the discrimination she has faced into action. She is active in LGBTQ organizing, and one of the face’s of the ACLU of Ohio’s Transgender Spotlight campaign which raises visibility of transgender Ohioans.
There are people like Jessica throughout Ohio that have experienced discrimination––and in most parts of the state, there’s simply recourse because it’s generally legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in Ohio.
Learn about the Ohio Fairness Act here, which would add LGBTQ people to the laws that make discrimination illegal in Ohio.