By Olivia Le Warn, Engagement Coordinator, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed
November 13th-19th is Transgender Awareness Week, followed by Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th. Transgender Awareness Week is used to raise the visibility of transgender people and address issues members of the community face. Navigating the workplace can be difficult for transgender folks, especially when their colleagues are uneducated on transgender topics.
To begin, a transgender person is someone that does not identify with their gender assigned at birth. This can include binary trans people (i.e. female to male, male to female), and nonbinary people as well (people that identify outside of the male/female binary). A cisgender person identifies with their gender assigned at birth. As with all groups, transgender people are not a monolith. As such, there are many different paths that transitioning can take. Some folks may choose to change their name, their pronouns, or their appearance. Others may choose to pursue a medical transition, which can include hormones and surgery. None of these paths are more valid than others, and it is important to support transgender staff in the steps they do take rather than placing expectations on how you think they should transition.
Transitioning can be both a difficult and rewarding process. For many transgender people there is the worry that their peers, family, or friends may not accept them for who they are. There are also substantial financial costs to many steps of transitioning, such as a legal name change or surgery. These worries can be compounded if a transgender person feels as though their workplace is not accepting, and that they are unable to express their struggles and victories with coworkers.
Many of us have worked with colleagues that are in stressful situations, such as buying a new home or caring for a new child, and we give the space for those colleagues to share about those situations to support them. Talking about transitioning should be normalized in your workplace as well. If a staff member comes out as transgender sharing that you support them in their decision can go a long way. This is especially true when the messaging comes from leadership. If lower-level employees see the modeled behavior of senior staff using the appropriate name and pronouns they will understand that not doing so will not be tolerated at the organization.
If many of an organization’s staff are uneducated about transgender topics, it can be worthwhile to hold a training with all staff to familiarize everyone with common terms and best practices. Having a training of this kind can support the transgender person by not having them explain their identity over and over, and can help make their cisgender colleagues more comfortable in engaging with transgender topics. These trainings should be planned with the transgender staff member(s), as they may be able to share issues that they have faced and would like addressed. Things like deadnaming (using the transgender person’s old name instead of their chosen one), incorrect pronoun usage, and outlining what questions are invasive are all topics that can be covered in a training.
Outside of showing support and educating staff, organizations can also look at their policies and procedures, and analyze if they are supportive of transgender people. The following are some questions that your organization can begin asking itself, even if you do not currently have a transgender person on staff.
Does your organization make it easy to change a person’s name for their email, before going through a costly and lengthy legal name change process?
Does your organization’s health care plan cover transgender-related healthcare?
Is there a gender-neutral bathroom on site?
Which staff member would handle assisting the transgender person in managing their transition at work?
What is the procedure for adjusting personnel and administrative records?
When a transgender person feels as though they are supported in the workplace and can be their authentic self, they will be better equipped to do their job. For more information about LGBTQ+ topics, you can read the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed’s DEIJ Toolkit, specifically the section “Welcoming Gender and Sexuality in the Workplace”.