Why do we have International Transgender Day of Visibility?
Do you have any trans or non-binary employees in your organisation? That is a question I ask all my clients before delivering a transgender awareness presentation, but most cannot answer the question. They may be aware of some gender non-conforming staff but are not sure if they are trans or no binary.
The reality is that most organisations almost certainly do have trans and non-binary employees, but often they are not “out.” Recent research has highlighted that fact that over 60% of LGBTQ + employees are not comfortable about being out at work.
March 31st is International Transgender Day of Visibility and whilst I applaud the idea of encouraging trans people to be visible, I understand why they might be very reticent about being out and proud.
The goal for most trans people is to blend in. When I changed gender in 2002, I didn’t want people to see me as trans; I didn’t want people to stop and stare when I walked past. I didn’t want people to laugh and giggle behind my back. I didn’t want shop assistants to become dumbstruck when I asked them a question. I didn’t want school children to shout out “Hey Tranny!” when they saw me. I wanted to be invisible, just another middle-aged woman.
Blending in is more difficult when we identify as non-binary because the essence of being non-binary is that they are neither male nor female. I remember visiting, my then 14-year-old daughter, when I was in the process of changing. I had turned up looking very androgynous and that caused her a huge problem. She was very accepting of my decision to change, but if her school friends saw her with someone who was not clearly male or female, that would result in bullying.
So, what is the point of International Transgender Day of Visibility?
It was established in 2009 to encourage the celebration of successful trans and non-binary lives, to be a positive day of celebration. There has always been a tendency to focus on the trauma of being trans; the medical procedures; the battles with the NHS; the discrimination, harassment and victimisation. The hate crimes – violence, murder, rape and domestic abuse.
OK, I have had a fair bit of discrimination, been involved in a few hate events, and been trolled online – but that has not been the dominant story of my trans life. I have had a good time – met some great people, spoken at countless events and done a fair bit to educate cisgender people on trans and non-binary lives, thereby making life that much easier for them.
The goal of International Transgender Day of Visibility is to make the process of being visible more acceptable. There are seven things that you can do as leader to help achieve this goal and make life more comfortable for your visible and invisible trans and non-binary colleagues and their friends, family and allies. In the process you will also help to make your business more profitable and a nicer place to work.
- Clear Equality Policies – Fairly Enforced
Make sure that you have clear written policies in place supporting people with all protected characteristics and ensure that they are fairly and publicly enforced. Setting up Employee Resource Groups for minority groups is a great way to get your employees to do this for you.
- See Trans and Non-Binary Identities as Positive
Welcome trans and non-binary people and feature them in internal and external news and marketing stories. And remember that many colleagues will have trans and non-binary parents, children, siblings, friends etc, so being trans positive will impact them as well.
- Trans and Non-Binary Education
Host regular awareness training sessions and discussion forums to help all your cisgender employees to understand what life is like for trans and non-binary people. I regularly deliver lunch and learn and other keynote presentations for clients to help with this.
- Challenge Transphobia and Homophobia
If you hear negative comments about any LGBTQ + people in the workplace or at the pub after work – call it out. Let it be known that any harassment, even making a negative comment or joke is totally unacceptable. There is no place for it, just as there is no place for negative behaviour towards people with any protected characteristics.
- Be openly inclusive and supportive
There is nothing worse for anyone than to feel excluded, but sometimes trans and non-binary people are scared to put themselves forward. That is a problem for a lot of people who feel shy or reserved and it is important that you make a point of including and listening to them, or at least making it clear that they are welcome to join in. Wherever possible support local LGBTQ + events like Pride Month, LGBQT + History Month and International Transgender Day of Visibility. Make sure everyone sees that you support their minority community.
- Become a Buddy
Changing gender is very challenging and there is a huge amount to learn about blending in socially. Encourage your colleagues to buddy with trans and non-binary people. Having friends at work who have their back will make sure that trans and non-binary colleagues feel able to bring their whole selves to work.
- Respect Boundaries – Confidentiality
Not everyone wants to be visible – in fact most trans people I know want to blend in, to be invisible. They definitely don’t want people pointing them out at the pub and telling their friends that they are trans or non-binary. If they undergo medical procedures, they will not want that to become a topic of conversation at work – it is a private and very personal matter they might share with people they trust.