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Coming Out as Transgender at Work

Louise D.

A Guide for Employers and Employees Alike

This article focuses both on the experience of a transgender person who wants to come out at work, as well as what the employer can do to support transgender employees. First, we have to acknowledge that there are two sides to this experience, and there are dos and don’ts on both sides. However, there are certain steps that both parties can take to make this process as smooth as possible all around. 

Employers have a responsibility to support their employees and provide the necessary structure for them to feel safe and comfortable in the workplace. Employees have a responsibility to handle their transition in the workplace professionally and to follow the correct steps and protocols to address discrimination. 

In June of 2015, the supreme court ruled in favor of transgender employees in the Bostock v. Clayton County case creating a clear precedent that discriminatory behavior against transgender employees for their gender identity is against the law. This overrides any local laws as federal law clearly states that discrimination based on sex and disability is illegal. This includes employment discrimination, being fired or harassed based on your gender identity, sex assigned at birth, gender transition, or transgender status. This also includes states where nondiscrimination laws have not yet been passed. 

Coming Out As Transgender

Transgender Inclusion and Legality 

Know Your Rights and how they Compare to those of Your Employer

If a transgender person experiences discrimination in the workplace, it is not a federal requirement for them to report the problem internally or to try and resolve it through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); in fact, they can file lawsuits straight away. 

That being said, it might be a better idea to first follow internal procedures. This is the more professional route to take, and if the human resources department backs you up, then the issue can be resolved relatively quietly. You can share copies of the federal government guidance on trans workplace issues with the department as an additional measure. 

If that does not work, then you need to turn to external organizations like Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or even a federal court. It is vital that you file a case of discrimination. It helps track incidents and strengthens the position for further legislation in favor of trans people in the workplace. 

If you want to sue the company leadership, you can request a right-to-sue letter when filing the discrimination charge. While this is not a prerequisite to a lawsuit, it can be beneficial to follow this route. You should also start trying to find a lawyer early on in the process as deadlines are very strict.

Remember that there is a federal law protecting the rights of gender-nonconforming people and transgender people. This includes the Civil Rights Act. There are also organizations dedicated to protecting rights, such as the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. There are even supreme court rulings that offer protection for transgender people in the workplace. 

Benefits of an Inclusive Work Environment

In general, a lack of transgender-specific policies opens a company up to litigation, which is bad for everyone. Recent research suggests that more than half of transgender employees feel uncomfortable when they are out at work. This is undoubtedly due to pervasive levels of discrimination against trans employees. Furthermore, survey respondents indicated that many of them feel less supported by senior leaders in the company than cisgender people. 

The only way that this is going to improve is if employers start taking concrete steps to improve transgender equality within their company. Company culture needs to be changed from the top down. Management needs to take workplace discrimination seriously. At the same time, it is also important to make sure that other employees also feel comfortable within their workplace. This is a delicate balance to maintain, and conflicts need to be handled sternly but with care. 

The final goal of a trans-inclusive workplace will not necessarily be to change people’s opinions. In fact, this is entirely not what you are going for. The goal is to spread awareness and increase understanding and avoid discrimination. Therefore, such incidents need to be addressed. It is important to have policies that can guide you through addressing issues related to protected categories of employees. 

Challenging Gender Stereotypes

A good place to start with changing company culture is to begin by challenging stereotypes related to sex and gender. If gender roles are not such a major focus within the company culture, then transgender employees are more likely to fit in easier because people will be more accepting if they do not stick to gender roles. 

This includes things like bathroom access and dress codes. If these are not inclusive, then there could be uncomfortable situations for employees who usually do not conform strictly to gender roles. 

It is also important to promote tolerance for sexual orientation, but not to get lost in the LGB part of the community and then leave the TQ behind. When addressing sexual orientation, you should include gender identity as the two are fundamentally different. 

Coming Out As Transgender

Gender Expression

Issues related to dress codes extend to gender expression. A person cannot be their authentic self if they are expected to adhere to a sexist dress code. Trans employees should also be allowed to use their preferred gender pronouns, and if you are looking to maintain a trans-inclusive workplace, then other employees should also adhere to preferred pronouns. 

The Human Rights Campaign and other movements like it underpin the importance of freedom of gender expression. It is a fundamental right for trans people, and anyone really, to express themselves freely and live as their authentic selves. Even the Harvard Business Review provides relevant information and additional resources for trans issues in the workplace. 

Gender Nonconforming Employees

While committing to an inclusive environment at work, it is important that gender-nonconforming employees are not left behind in plans. A lot of focus can be placed on trans men or women, and in that situation, non-binary people are often also left behind. 

They face similar issues as trans men and women. They also struggle with gender identity and are protected by the Human Rights Campaign the same way that other transgender people are. They struggle with self-esteem and are denied health care, and face discrimination from cisgender people. They should not be overlooked. 

Transgender Employees and Job Seeking

Protecting your gender identity when following the job application process can be difficult. Sex assigned at birth is considered confidential medical information and does not need to be shared with anyone. However, for various reasons, you might have to disclose this information during onboarding. If this is the case, then those who know your status must respect your wishes to remain stealth if you choose. No one has the right to out you. 

Furthermore, you should be able to use your chosen name and pronouns within the workplace. The only exception would be if your name and pronouns are not legally changed yet, then you might need to use your legal name and pronouns on legal documents like your contract and payroll documents. Otherwise, you should be able to use your chosen name and to expect others to use it as well. 

If you are unsure about your rights, you can approach your local transgender law center or other local legal aid for further information. These institutions will be able to give you guidance on your trans identity in the workplace. 

When you take on a new position, it is a good idea to sit down with management and discuss your transition and how it will impact your work schedule. Make them aware that you might need time off and how much time is common for the type of procedures you are considering. 

Supporting Transgender Workers Through Gender Transition

There is no perfect recipe for coming out at work. Your experience will be pretty unique to your individual circumstances. These are just some guidelines on possible routes to take and where you can go for help if it goes wrong. It is essential to understand your options before you start the process. 

Initially, you might want to disclose to a close work friend or someone you feel that you can trust so that you can find an ally. An ally can be really good to have in the workplace and can be the source of support that keeps you grounded through this process. 

Your next step will likely be to approach management and human resources. Find out if there is a guidance policy or how it might work in your company. If you struggle with this step, then you might want to consider outside help, such as the EEOC. 

If management is supportive, though, and you want to proceed with coming out to the rest of the company, you can either do so gradually or all at once. You could also choose to do it with a face-to-face announcement, or you can do it via an official email. There is no rule that states you have to come out to the whole company, so if you want to keep it small, then you can do that as well, but in that case, you do need to be prepared that the information might spread anyway. 

Before you make any official announcement, though, you should make sure that your new email and photos, etc., are in order. Sit down with your managers and come up with an action plan. This can help keep things on course and can offer guidance when you hit roadblocks along the way. Also, make sure that acceptable and unacceptable behavior is clear with management. 

Try to work as closely as possible with upper management throughout this process. If colleagues see that upper management is with you, then they are less likely to react unfavorably. There should also be a plan to manage negative reactions. 

Remember that discrimination is still a major problem and can be a problem even in an inclusive workplace. If inclusion is misaligned, then there is still a chance for discrimination. This mostly happens when inclusion efforts are aimed more at the LGB part of the spectrum and neglect TQ parts. 

The bottom line is that a person cannot be fired or denied promotion or employment due to their transgender status. This extends to coming out at work and wanting to undergo gender transitions. If you are applying for new work while transitioning, it might be good to disclose timelines and discuss your time off needs related to transitioning. Discrimination based on sex or gender is also illegal in the workplace. 

Coming Out As Transgender

Understanding Gender Identity and Educating Other Workers 

Despite the progress made in recent years, many people still do not understand gender identity or expression, and an extremely valuable thing that companies can do is to offer opportunities for diversity trainings to spread awareness and understanding. This can help others to welcome transgender people and other marginalized groups into the work environment when they are otherwise unsure how to do this respectably. 

There might be people who want to be supportive, but they do not know how it works, and they do not know where to begin with online research. It can be very overwhelming when you don’t know anything about it, but you want to learn. You might also end up finding unreliable information that can lead you in the wrong direction, so having training opportunities at work is excellent. 

If you want to change workplace cultures in relation to marginalized groups, then the best way to do it is through training and education. Awareness and understanding can, but does not always, change how people feel about certain issues. If cisgender employees can understand gender identity or expression, they are more likely to feel less intimidated by transgender people and ideas like gender-neutral bathrooms. 

Obviously, there will always be some people who will not approve, and that is fine. Your goal is not to change someone’s opinion but to help them understand the opinions of another and to have everyone respect each other and try to maintain a conflict-free work environment. 

Technically speaking, a personal opinion is just that, personal. So it should not be an issue in a work environment. As long as a person is professional and does their job well, then their personal situation should not really have an impact on the workplace. But we do realize that this is a very idealistic statement and that, in reality, this is not as easily done as it is said. 

Challenges Faced by Trans Employees

And Trans Groups that are Often Left Behind

Unemployment rates among the trans community are extremely high, and trans people are often paid less than cisgender employees. They are denied access to housing, promotion, and even education based on their gender identity. 

Employers also need to remember that despite high rates of discrimination in the current climate, we have actually improved quite a lot. This means that many older transgender people were denied even more opportunities than what is common today. This means that they had less access to education and training and were less skilled than cisgender people of the same age. A great way to address these issues and give back to society is by offering training opportunities for this demographic and employing them with the intention of growing their skills set, rather than expecting them to show up with the skills already there as a cisgender person might. 

This also means that they do not have access to health care benefits which are essential for their medically necessary hormone treatments and other medical procedures associated with transition, not to mention all other medical needs that are not related to the transition process. This problem is so bad that many transgender people delay treatment for general medical problems until the problem becomes emergent. 

Additionally, transgender people also face extremely high rates of discrimination, especially because many organizations do not have workplace policies specific to the needs of trans employees. As discussed earlier in this article. Policies protect both the transgender employee and the company. Make sure that your policies are in line with the law and behave professionally and respectably; then, conflict is far less likely. 

Perhaps the most difficult part of the transition to navigate in the workplace is when medical procedures are involved, and a person has to take time off for recovery. This is yet another time that having an appropriate policy in place will be beneficial to both parties. Transitioning employees need to know what they are entitled to, and their direct supervisor needs to understand how to support them and how to implement policies. 

Having said that, transgender employees cannot enjoy privileges that others in the company do not. They need to be treated like anyone else, and their surgeries need to be treated the same way that another employee’s medically necessary surgery will be. This is often an aspect of equality that can be overlooked. The goal is to be treated the same as others, not to be treated better and have more access to time off, etc. 

Furthermore, employers always need to remember that gender identities include non-binary identities and gender-nonconforming people, or even those who are gender fluid. All of these trans individuals are entitled to transition-related care. 

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