May 7, 2015

Trans and Gender Variance Inclusion in the Workplace


On March 26th, the Center for Career & Professional Development (CCPD) held a panel called Trans and Gender Variant: Change the Employment Landscape, which discussed trans and gender-variance inclusion, protection, and equality in the workplace.

Before I attended the discussion I knew there were eight different genders, but I could only name three or four, transgender being one of them. That particular identity choice wasn't just a conceptual idea to me because over the years I have become close to someone who identifies as transgender. Since he is still in high school, I felt it was even more important for me to attend this panel discussion and share what I learned with others.

The panel was comprised of a multitude of people from different backgrounds and experiences: Amy Alma, Emmit Klien-Stropnicky, Ethan Rice, Vince White, Zave Martohadjono, Ryan Coupela and Wren Nilla. Emmit, Ethan, Zave, Ryan and Wren all introduced themselves as people who identify as trans. Amy and Zave are performing artists who shared their experiences as working artists in the city, while Ethan and Vince are lawyers who provided insight into the judicial issues transgender employees face. Ethan is a Pratt alumni who used his personal work experience as an example, while Ryan and Wren are current Pratt students who spoke about their experience as college students while at Pratt.

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The current workplace is not ideal for transgender employees throughout the country. Vince pointed out from his experience as a lawyer that "it is frustrating once you leave the city [referring to New York City] because a lot of laws that protect against workplace discrimination aren't really there in other parts of the country.” Most of the time while Vince is in court, he finds himself educating the jury on why work discrimination against transgender employees is wrong.

Emmit had not gone through a legal struggle, but his personal experience at his former workplace was just as eye opening. He started his transition at his former job, and although his boss didn’t discriminate against him, Emmit found his boss didn’t quite understand or grasp the experience he was going through. His boss continued to address him with the wrong pronouns, even after having been informed about these changes and asked to address him using the preferred gender pronoun him/his/himself. Although he had a supportive coworker at this job, Emmit felt he had to leave. Now he works at a metal shop where he has two trans coworkers and a boss who asks questions. For example, when his current boss didn’t know how to address one of Emmit’s transgender coworkers, he asked Emmit for help to use the correct language.


So what can you do to help? Every participant in the panel said that if someone is an ally for trans people, they should speak up and make it known they are an ally. While people who identify as transgender often want to be patient as they educate their coworkers, allies can help facilitate this process by encouraging coworkers to become accustomed to the changes. If a trans person specifies certain pronouns they want to be called, use them and don’t be afraid to correct others. Instead of telling someone they are wrong, tell them they are being rude by not respecting that person’s wishes in how they prefer to be addressed. If you don’t know the correct pronouns, like Emmit’s current boss did not, Emmit advised that you should use the default pronoun of “they”. Wren added that she started defaulting to they because she wanted to keep her mind open that anyone could be trans, and she wanted to get in the practice of not making gender assumptions.
There are handful of major cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and New York City that provide trans employees with a numerous amount of resources. Zave, who has been active in many transgender civil rights organisations like Silvia Rivera Law Project, LGBT Center and FIERCE, named a few of the resources he used to help with his transition: “I went TDLEF [Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund] for name change and to Callen Lorde for gender marker and hormone therapy.”

In comparison to the experiences shared by the other panelists, Amy felt enough wasn’t being done to support the trans community on a social level. Amy and their partner created a studio and a loft share in Bushwick where anyone who identifies with any gender identity can work and live together as long as everyone corporates. "We are in charge for making sure that everyone is respectful and we still had issues with gender identity and people living together even in Bushwick." The fact that Amy and their partner still had people of all gender identities who had trouble getting along is a sign that New York City still needs to help the trans community. This can be by offering safe spaces to discuss gender identity, passing policies to support the trans community and more.

I can see that there is more work to be done legally, socially and culturally to support transgender employees in the workforce. If you are transgender or are an ally looking to help, here are some resources you can use to increase awareness and become informed:


Written by: Bree Balsamo
Image by: Olga Solano

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