How would you feel if every day you lived in fear of losing your job, your home or being denied basic human services? Would you feel isolated? Do you think this would hinder you from giving your all?
These scary thoughts are very real for hundreds of thousands of transgender men and women living in the United States. Why? Because in 30 states there are no laws to protect them. And why not? It is because, in many of these states, many people are simply not aware or choose to ignore the needs or the existence of the transgender members in their communities.
This week is Transgender Awareness Week. So, here are five tips to show your support of transgender people at work, as well as in our communities and families. They’re also great ways to be a leader even if you’re not in charge.
Why It’s Important
Before we jump into the “how,” here’s a bit on the “why.” In addition to the 30 states where transgender humans can be denied work, housing and basic human services, transgender humans are also more susceptible to violence. In 2017, 19 unarmed black men were killed by police officers, and there was an uproar; yet, in the same year, 29 transgender people, mostly transgender women of color, were murdered, and it barely reached the headlines of local media, let alone the major news outlets.
In a country where such a huge emphasis is put on financial success, “a study of transgender Americans found they are nearly four times more likely to have a household income under $10,000 per year than the population as a whole (15 percent vs. 4 percent). This is true despite the finding that 87 percent of transgender people have completed at least some college and 47 percent have obtained a college or graduate degree — rates that are much higher than those for the general population.” No wonder so many transgender Americans feel left behind or excluded from the American Dream.
Also, with the current administration’s attempt to define gender based on outward appearance at birth, transgender humans are increasingly feeling marginalized and attacked by the government that claims that we all have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” How does one pursue happiness, especially that associated with work and career, when our government won’t recognize them for who they are?
But, we can help change that — and here’s how.
Never ‘Out’ Someone You Suspect of Being Transgender
It’s never your decision to find out or determine if someone is transgender, even to show your support. Remember that transgender humans are just that — and they, like you, have a right to privacy. It’s their choice of when, to whom and how to share with others that they’re trans. If you suspect someone is transgender, give them their space. If you’re right, then being an ally might make you an attractive candidate for them sharing their authentic selves with you. If you’re incorrect, then how embarrassing would that be for both of you?
Ultimately, if a transgender person confides in you, they’ve taken a risk in trusting you. No one enjoys it when someone betrays their trust. Remember, outing them could lead to unintended consequences in the workplace, in the community or within their family.
I’ll be the first to admit I have a lot to learn about transgender people. We’re evolving as humans. We’re starting to be more open about who we are and how we choose to live. That means we need to understand more and assume less.
Gabrielle Claiborne of Transformation Journeys Worldwide shares, “The time to buy a fire extinguisher isn’t when you have a fire. It’s much better for everyone involved if a workplace is prepared when someone comes out at work or the company engages with a transgender client than to be reactive and unprepared.”
A great place to start your education is this FAQ post about transgender people on the National Center for Transgender Equality website.
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Use the Correct Pronouns
If someone confides in you, ask them which pronouns they prefer to use: she/her/hers, they/them/their, he/him/his or something entirely else? This is a great step in respecting their choice and letting them know you’re supporting them.
Claiborne also shares the following technique to connect around pronouns. You say, “Hi! My name is Gabrielle, and my pronouns are she/her/hers. How about you?” What this does is send a message to the person you’re communicating with that:
- You understand the importance of pronouns, and you’re not relying on them to educate you about their importance
- You want to connect with them in a respectful manner
This might be uncomfortable at first, but the more you practice it, the more it becomes second nature.
Another way to show support and let others know that you’re an ally is to add your preferred pronouns to your email signature. Not only are you letting any transgender colleague know you’re supportive, but it might also allow you to inform other colleagues that it’s something you feel is important at work and in your community.
No one likes to be left out. Include trans people as you would any other colleague, friend or family member. If you’re having drinks after work, don’t assume they wouldn’t join because you’re getting beers at a sports bar. Who knows, she might love sports as much as you do.
Many transgender people feel excluded, even at times from the Ls, Gs and Bs of the LGBTQ community. Especially if you’re a member of the community or an ally in general, it’s a great way to show your support and be an important part of educating ourselves about transgender people.
Stand Up for Them
You would never stand for someone disparaging someone you care about, right? Caleb Arring of LGBTQ Entrepreneur reminds us that with the current attacks by leaders in the federal government on the transgender community, it’s likely that transphobic comments, jokes and messages are circulating. If you’re part of a group and the topic comes up, be sure you stand up to end any discriminatory or harassing comments, as you wouldn’t stand for racist or sexist jokes or comments.
Real leaders take a stand for those who either cannot or are not there to defend themselves. If you’re in a position of authority and see or hear of discrimination or harassment, reprimand your subordinates and file the occurrence with your company’s HR department.
Arring also suggests asking your place of work to remove gender from single-stall restrooms and requesting that they include transgender health care in the plans offered, as other ways to stand up for the trans community. The fact is that many transgender individuals are faced with costs of which many aren’t aware.
Whether it’s Transgender Awareness Week or not, it’s vitally important to remember that our colleagues, friends and family members deserve respect, the same respect we would hope for anyone else. Our religion, our politics, even our goals in life shouldn’t get in the way treating all humans with the same respect and consideration as we would want. If you’ve not done so before, this would be a great week to start showing your support of our transgender brothers and sisters.
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