She arrived for the interview in a state of nerves. She had been unemployed for a year, as a result of the prejudice which makes it difficult for transsexuals to find work. At every attempt, she came up against the same wall. The glances, the whispers, the disapproving or condescending gestures. Finding a job began to feel like mission impossible, and she responded to any hint of empathy like a shipwreck survivor pulled onto a liferaft. That is why, when Sonia thought she detected a sense of understanding from Chica, who runs Hotel Ritual in Torremolinos, she was absolutely honest. “I have no experience as a cleaner, but I'm willing to learn. I need a chance,” she said. And they gave her one.
The hotel owners had already toldChica they were in favour of contracting transsexuals, a group which suffers double discrimination when they try to find work. “I have been very lucky because my family have always supported me, but I know some people who feel very alone,” says Sonia. Often bullied and criticised at school, the adult world can also be hellish for those who change gender. “Just as you think everything is over, you start another battle,” she explains.
After the interview Chica asked Sonia to take a training course which the company would pay for and then took her on in August, at the height of the tourist season. “She did so well that we kept her on in the winter,” she says.
Sonia is employed as a cleaner in the first hotel in Spain to sign a contract guaranteeing training and jobs for transsexuals, but she knows that many others in her situation end up as prostitutes. The director of Ritual, David Taboas, has received more than 40 CVs since the agreement with the Association of Transsexuals of Andalucía (ATA) was announced recently. “They are stigmatised. People can't see beyond stereotypes. Many transsexuals end up on the streets, but the situation is especially difficult when they are older,” he says.
“Of course I have suffered discrimination,” says Sonia who before joining the Hotel Ritual had worked in a hamburger restaurant. “I never wanted to do night work, in bars or discos, but I understand how difficult it is to find anything else.”
She lives in Malaga city, but travels to Torremolinos every day because she hasn't been able to find a job nearer home. A report drawn up by Malaga University in 2010 showed that more than 70 per cent of transsexual people lack opportunities in finding a job, and the situation is worse for older people. The pioneering agreement between Ritual and the ATA also includes internal promotion. “We want transsexuals to hold management posts, and we offer them training for that,” says David Taboas.
The Hotel Ritual opened last year as a 'gay friendly' establishment. In peak season, more than 90 per cent of its clients are members of the LGTBI collective. The agreement with ATA has inadvertantly brought them even more business. “We didn't expect such a response, we really didn't,” says David. He points out that many businesses in Torremolinos “are making major efforts for this to become an inclusive and dynamic destination again,” so he is “especially upset” by recent comments by the former mayor and president of the local Partido Popular, Pedro Fernández Montes, describing gay tourism, and the promotion of the town, as “low class”.
“Our company has invested more than 22 million euros in remodelling this hotel. Now we have 70 employees, whereas before there were 30. The rooms have been revalued, with prices ranging from 50 euros to 300 a night. This is not low-class tourism at all. There used to be one grocery shop here and now there are two, and all the bars and restaurants have more clients, so we think it's a shame that the PP has not disassociated itself from those comments,” says David.
The president of ATA, Mar Cambrollé, says transsexuals face “apartheid” when trying to find work. The association wants the Junta de Andalucía to “stop looking the other way” and bring the Integral Law of Transsexuality, which was approved in 2014, into force to provide tax incentives to encourage companies to employ transsexuals. “Hopefully one day all this will not be necessary,” says Sonia, “and we will have the same opportunities as everyone else.”