Oct 26, 2018
How to Support Your Trans and Intersex Coworkers After Trump’s Gender Memo
Last weekend, the New York Times reported that a Trump Administration memo advocated for a new legal definition of sex under Title IX. The proposed redefinition would narrowly construe sex as either male or female, determined by genitalia, and as fixed and thus unchangeable at birth—in opposition to the views of the medical community, scientists, intersex people, and transgender advocates and their allies.
As this latest development spread through trans communities, predictions of the long-term impact of “the memo” varied. Some argued that the loss of federal protections wouldn’t affect local- and state-level protections, or reverse decades of legal precedent upheld by court rulings. Others expressed worry that the withdrawal of federal support heralded a determined attempt to push trans people out of public existence and would incite additional discrimination and anti-trans violence across the country.
While it’s not clear what would happen if the changes proposed in the memo were implemented, one thing is certain: trans communities across the US are more stressed out, worried, and uncertain about the future than ever. One day after the memo was released, the Trans Lifeline—a free crisis hotline providing peer support for trans people across the US—reported double their usual number of first-time callers and quadruple their usual number of total calls.
Whether you’re an employer, a manager, or a member of your team, you might be wondering how to provide support for those affected by these national developments, but not know the best way to do so. Here’s where to start.
Check in with all your employees or team members to ask what they need
Before offering help, it’s important to be mindful of both who needs assistance and how they want to be assisted. Don’t assume that those who are “out” or visibly trans are the only ones impacted, or that all of these individuals want your assistance. Remember that even though many people have been affected by the news, not every person needs the same kind of support. One person may want to share their thoughts out loud, while another may want to be left alone. Respect others’ needs when you learn about them and extend your support to anyone who requests it.
One good way to reach out without putting others on the spot is to offer yourself as a resource in a message to a general mailing list or group chat. You might also make an announcement during a meeting. If you have an existing relationship with an individual, discussing their needs one-on-one can also be helpful. What’s important is that people who need help feel safe and respected around you, even if you may not be able to provide the specific assistance they need.
Be honest and accountable about your capacity
Sometimes, for personal or professional reasons, we can’t provide the support that others ask of us. Before you offer help, reflect on the kinds of assistance you can offer. Be specific. Do you have the authority to release a public statement on behalf of the company? Do you have the time to set aside an afternoon to talk? Be honest about what you can do, even if it feels small. Whether you offer to make someone a cup of coffee or spearhead a company-wide initiative, make sure you follow through with your promises. When a person talks big and drops the ball, their positive intentions may nonetheless result in a negative impact. Don’t be that person.
Assistance that you, your team, your department, or your company might choose to provide if able include:
- A public statement affirming support for trans communities (see statements from IBM and Stanford University)
- A community forum, support group, or other safe space led by and for affected employees
- Additional PTO, sick leave, and/or mental health services
- Additional resources committed to both internal advocacy groups (Employee Resource Groups, committees, diversity & inclusion) and external advocacy groups (nonprofits, community organizations)
- Information about both internal and external resources available to affected employees
- Internal policy or process changes that aim to make the workplace more inclusive, such as designating gender-inclusive bathrooms and creating or revising transition policies
Keep your finger on the community pulse
While the unease and fear generated by recent political events have created an immediate need for support, investing in the mental, emotional, and physical health of your employees and team members is a long-term effort. Take the opportunity to reach out not only in response to national crises but also in a proactive manner so that you and your organization can effectively provide the resources and support that trans and intersex workers need. Permanent resources, especially educational ones, can provide a level of support that temporary support cannot. Other resources like community support groups may be more or less necessary as need changes over time. Listen humbly, respectfully, and sustainably so that your organization can provide the support that its employees need, when they need it.
© 2018 Lily Zheng, originally published in Quartz.