Organizations to Follow for Tips or Training:
The Avarna Group
Center for Diversity and the Environment
The Emotional Intelligence and Diversity Institute
Harvard University’s Project Implicit
Pride at Work
Transgender Specific Policy Resources:
Transgender Law Center Model Transgender Employment Policy
Transgender Inclusion in the Workplace: Recommended Policies and Practices
Transgender Inclusion in the Workplace: A Tool for Employers
Workplace Gender Transition Guidelines
WPATH Standards of Care
Shameless Self Promotion That Could Also Be Helpful:
Chrissplains Nonbinary Advocacy to Cisgender People comic
This Presentation on YouTube:
First, I want to talk about my intersections for a second, because those effect how I see this issue. I’m trans nonbinary, pansexual, triracial, separated-Indigneous (probably from the Huron-Wendat Nation). In all cases, I can pass. I can choose to pass for cisgender, I can choose to pass for heterosexual, and I pass as white. How I navigate the workplace and my life will be different than someone who lives at different intersections than me and can’t pass for the privileged population for safety when necessary.
The First Step: Internal Evaluation of Organization
Before we can really talk about things that we can implement to make workplaces better, it’s important to realize that the first step should be to take a real, honest look at where our organizations are. Too many want to skip this step. When you do, sometimes you end up with optical allyship that puts band aids on problems to appear to be “woke” and ready for marginalized people, but end up harming and losing the talent once they experience the culture.
There needs to be an internal evaluation of systems of oppression – ideally from an outside contractor who does that sort of thing. Analyze the ideologies of the organization. Find out what biases got operationalized over time. Evaluate how your organization adheres to a white- cisgender- heterosexual- abled- Christian-normative culture.
One that is the most common, I find, in environmental nonprofit work, is a workplace culture of constant urgency due to understaffing and requiring too much from staff. This type of culture prohibits the time needed to do internal inclusivity and justice work, to encourage thoughtful decision-making, to think long-term, or to figure out and mitigate possible micro-aggressions that might arise. A culture built on constant urgency means that the status quo will always be maintained, which means, catering to the groups that hold privilege already. To be a truly inclusive and equitable organization, you need to look at what causes this culture and dismantle it, despite the fact that it’s largely considered “normal” in nonprofit work. It may be “normal,” but it’s problematic for employees who experience marginalization.
For those without a big budget for this sort of work, utilize free resources like the Human Rights Coalition’s Gender Identity and Gender Expression Workplace Review form and be brutally honest with yourself. You could also have Community Listening Sessions where members of the community are asked to weigh in to see what they want to see change in your organization.
Once you’ve found your places that need work, develop a diversity plan and equity principles you can implement.
That work is on an individual, case-by-case basis, so unfortunately, there’s no easy answer I can write and give to you to make that happen. I can give you a parting tip – under no circumstance should you have your POC and LGBTIQA2+ employees do this for you. That’s heaps of unpaid emotional labor (even if you are paying them at their hourly wage). Get an outside facilitator.
How to Meet Needs within Maslow’s Hierarchy
Before you bring your first trans nonbinary, pansexual employee in the door, let’s look at ways that you can focus on equity first solutions to position descriptions, onboarding, and develop an affirming experience for your employees so they don’t have to deal with a workplace that focuses on cisgender heterosexual normative nonsense during their day.
I’m going to bring in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s not the most perfect model, in my opinion, because I believe that different personality types and different childhood traumas may mean that different items in the pyramid should be in a different order for different people. But it’s what I’m gonna use.
As a representative from an organization, you might not think you have much to do with this realm. That’s mostly true, but you have control over the cultural things in place that help your employees feel confident that their physiological needs will be met. For employees who are LGBTIQA2+, this is a huge concern with being out in the workplace. Personally, I’ve been fired from two jobs for my sexual orientation. One time, a store manager straight up said he was firing me for “looking like a d*ke” and upsetting customers.
Lots of LGBTIQA2+ people will likely have gaps in employment or checked boxes for “do not contact my supervisor” by places of employment due to being fired for being out, presentation, or “being difficult,” or the catch-all “not fitting with the company culture.” Some will have difficulty getting employment due to presentation.
People who live at the intersection of many marginalized communities could have larger gaps, more stops, and may have had to leave a job for their mental and emotional health and well-being, or worse, had to stay in a toxic workplace because they couldn’t afford not to.
As a representative, you can set up a company culture that provides a sense of security that something like that won’t happen. Have a process for letting go of an employee with full transparency of that process, regardless of your state’s laws. Make sure your employees know they won’t be fired down the road for being openly who they are.
Another way you can help is by not having a culture of passion exploitation. Provide a real, living wage.
On top of having bouts of joblessness, many LGBTIQA2+ people will have been disowned by their families or denied social programs because of their identities as well. That means that the safety nets provided for most workers don’t always catch LGBTIQA2+ people. In my case, that meant I was unhoused several times – while working. I worked in an environmental nonprofit that had a culture of passion exploitation and had to couch surf for roof over my head and dumpster dive to eat.
Working as much as I was, I should not have had to worry about where I would sleep or how I would eat. Setting up a company culture of passion exploitation means that typically white, cisgender, heterosexual, abled, people from middle-class upbringing will be the only kind of person who will be able to afford working at your organization; and it won’t be conducive to people from marginalized communities, at least not for the long-run.
In a 2018 survey, 46% of LGBTIQA2+ workers said they had to remain closeted at work to get hired at all or to get a promotion. Playing pretend like this will impact employee’s well-being and their work performance and prevent LGBTIQA2+ employees from connecting with the rest of the team. 1 in 5 workers reported that they had been told or had coworkers imply that they should dress in a more binary fashion – either feminine or masculine – depending on the gender assigned at birth. 53% of workers report hearing jokes about lesbian or gay people at least once in a while. 31% of LGBTIQA2+ employees reported having felt unhappy or depressed at work.
On top of all that, 30% of transgender people report being harassed, fired, or mistreated at work. Transgender women of color are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than the general population and three times as likely to be unemployed. LGBTIQA2+ adults have difficulty achieving economic security. So how can our organizations help and not be part of the problem?
Firstly, we can hire people. That seems obvious, but a common barrier is gatekeeper fragility. This is the act of having discomfort from thinking about another person’s potential discomfort and closing the door to stop it – stopping inclusion and gatekeeping resources or opportunities.
I’ve seen this play out in an organization where the leadership lamented having a homogenized workforce, but they were hesitant to hire someone with an identity outside of their own because they were afraid of saying the wrong things and making an ass of themselves. When I asked what they were doing to learn how to say the right things, they weren’t. The solution to them wasn’t to learn better and do better and spend time, money, or energy to take seminars. It was to withhold employment! That doesn’t help anything.
We can also offer real, competitive wages, and be transparent about it. There should be a listed method for cost of living increases, and salary determination, and promotions, written right in the handbook.
There’s an organization I know of that had a poor compensation package with no method for any of those things in the handbook. After accepting a position there and moving their family, a queer person I know then had their compensation package slowly chipped away after hiring, to balance the organization’s budget. First it was doing without a payout of money owed, then it was lost cost of living increases, then it was paying for workplace equipment on personal credit cards and incurring interest, and then they were asked to find their own insurance and receive a stipend to do so. While that may not be a huge ask for white, cisgender, heterosexual employees from middle-class backgrounds, that could financially ruin someone from a marginalized community who may not have had financial security when they started.
Speaking of transparency, job postings should have a transparent salary range. Why? For one, marginalized people have other things to deal with and are more likely to not have that economic security I mentioned, which means the salary range might be more important to them than the scope of the job itself. They’ll need that information to prioritize. Second, if you post something like “based on experience,” or worse, ask for salary needs, you are actively participating in the creation of the wage gap. White, cisgender, heterosexual, abled men will always value their time more than people who are from marginalized communities and especially those who are from the intersection of more than one. Our society has told us that much and it takes a lot of decolonizing work to beg beyond that.
Another aspect of transparency that will help with equity in hiring is putting requirements for positions (including internships) that are real. Too often, organizations add things that are, in reality, “it would be nice of the candidate had x” as a requirement, and that’s a good way to ensure a homogenized workforce.
As I said, LGBTIQA2+ people tend to have more economic instability, more gaps in employment, more low-level employment, and less opportunity for higher education. It took me 10 years to complete a bachelor’s degree because I had to take time off every few years to work full time to be able to afford it. That doesn’t stop LGBTIQA2+ people from being perfectly qualified and suitable for a job, but it might stop them from having inflated “requirements” met.
POC and LGBTIQA2+ people don’t tend to apply for positions where they don’t have the listed “requirements” either, even when it says “or relevant experience,” for the same reasons we’ve talked about before. This furthers the employment gap. If something isn’t an actual requirement, don’t include it there.
What about safety once they’re in the door? A good place to start is bathrooms – preferably non-gendered. Story time: When I was more masculine presenting, I was yanked out of a women’s bathroom at Union Station in New York City by my collar, by a cop. Apparently, while I was in there, minding my own business in line to use one of the closed stalls, a cisgender woman found a cop and told him that a man was in the women’s bathroom and she felt “unsafe.” By her haughty attitude and how aggressively she got in my face as the cop was pulling me out, she wasn’t truly afraid. She was asserting her right to challenge my safety for her comfort. The cop let me go after I showed him my ID that had my gender assigned at birth with a “you know, if you didn’t dress like that, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Bathrooms are a huge deal in the safety of LGBTIQA2+ people. At any given time, there’s likely a so-called bathroom bill in one or more legislative bodies to prohibit trans people from using one. Make it so that when people give you eight or however many hours of themselves a day, they don’t have to deal with a safety issue like that.
The best option is an all-gender bathroom with affirming labels. I think we’ve all seen the mermaid/centaur signs or the “Whatever, just wash your hands.” That can be funny for some, but it can feel dismissive to others. We aren’t mythical creatures. Mermaids don’t have to use the bathroom and feel safe and affirmed, I do. The best signs indicate all-gender, and whether or not it’s accessible to people with mobility aids. My favorite signs announce what’s included in the bathroom: urinals, stalls, changing tables, accessible stalls, etc.
If you are working on creating an all-gender remodel, the gendered bathrooms should be stocked with what people need, keeping in mind that some men and people who feel safest in the men’s restroom menstruate and will need access to the small trash cans and menstrual products in that bathroom.
What you absolutely can’t do is recruit people to your organization and expect them to deal with having to determine their safety levels when they have to use the bathroom or expect them to hold it while at work.
Your health insurance should also be inclusive. Does the insurance company you contract with explicitly affirm transgender services? What World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s (WPATH) Standards of Care does it reference? Is the plan accessible to all employees so they aren’t forced to out themselves to HR to find it? Does the documentation clearly communicate the inclusive insurance options for employees and their dependents? Does the plan ensure in-network specialists for transition-related or affirming care? Does the pharmaceutical coverage adequately cover hormone replacement therapies (HRT) or coverage for gender affirming surgeries? Does it consider procedures for gender affirmation to be medically necessary with a health-care provider’s approval without your employee having to spend countless hours doing that work? Are their caps to the coverage? I’ve actually seen a Denver-based environmental nonprofit’s job announcement state that they had a health insurance plan with no deductible. I wish I made a note of which one so I could ask how they did that. I’ll update this if I find out.
Not all trans employees will transition, but you should make sure that your insurance covers that sort of care. These are things to take into account when trying to set up your organization to be ready for LGBTIQA2+ employees and their safety needs.
It’s really hard to shut off who you are and go it alone as the only POC or LGBTIQA2+ person, or in my case both, at the organization where you work if you aren’t fully affirmed. And honestly, it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the employee to enforce it. There are ways that an organization can start affirming from day one.
Check your Employee Handbook, your workplace’s last job opening post, your volunteer/internship/or job application. Are your LGBTIQA2+ employees affirmed there?
Does your Employee Handbook say “he or she”? The one I’m working under does. There’s a saying in the nonbinary community, “Be they, do crimes.” We’re often not mentioned in laws or organizations’ rules. Therefore, we exist outside of the rules, right? I asked our staff attorney Matt and he thought so. Edit your Employee Handbook to say “they” (as in multiple employees, or the pronoun to use when you don’t know the pronoun; not my personal pronouns) or “the employee.” Same with your job posts, volunteer/internship/or job application.
Does your Handbook have gendered dress codes? Gross! Get rid of them. They are harmful and do nothing helpful. Does your company block certain searches on company computers? I’ve heard of this – where words that are LGBTIQA2+ affirming or specific were included in blocked search terms. What message does that send then to your LGBTIQA2+ employees?
In the application, it should include a space for affirming names and pronouns. Extra bonus points for forms that ask which pronouns to use in different circumstances. It might not be the same under every circumstance. The pronouns I use for internal meetings might not be the same ones I use for external meetings. There should be a system in place for updating that information when employees are ready to be out at work.
For 68% of transgender people, their legal name is not their affirming name. For 35% of those people, they didn’t change it because of the cost – another great reason to offer a living wage. 32% of those who haven’t changed it cited fear that they would lose their jobs or experience harassment. By asking the question from the first day, you are reassuring your employee that your organization values equity and affirming and is willing to do the work whenever they are ready to be out. For others, it’s the stress. I can attest first hand that it is an incredibly stressful and dysphoric process to change your name and gender marker, and it is expensive if you don’t have a lot of disposable income.
All onboarding forms should include an opportunity to use an affirming name when possible – examples being email and system logins, employee directories, nametags, business cards – really anywhere you have the ability to use it. The only times it should be the legal name when there is a different affirming name is when there is a legal constraint (insurance forms, licensing, etc) or the employee requested it for their own reasons.
The cultural competency of the organization should reflect inclusion and the management should be prepared to enforce it. New hire training must state that the non-discrimination policy includes gender identity and expression, it should cover affirming names, the importance of respecting people’s pronouns, how to ask people what pronouns they use, what to do if you make a mistake, and that your organization has a company culture that affirms everyone. Employees should be informed that they should not assume gender, pronouns, sexual orientation, including the oh-so-common assumption of the gender of the significant other.
Supervisors and managers should be taught to center equity in addressing problems. When an LGBTIQA2+ employee reports an incident, the supervisor should be prepared to affirm them. Often, if the supervisor is of cisgender and heterosexual, they empathize with the offending coworker. That happened to me and I didn’t report anything to that supervisor after that. And not because there weren’t further issues, but because I understood that fragility was leading that organization and my issue would not be heard or resolved. I just job searched at night instead.
Since more environmental nonprofits don’t work in a vacuum, there needs to culture of affirmation in the coalitions that you work in. Leadership should be prepared to and happy to affirm you in your coalitions and head those difficult conversations when you are attacked. Story time: in one of the coalitions that my organization belongs to, an email went around about signing a letter opposing the Department of Interior’s removal of sexual orientation protections in the non-discrimination guidelines. That was so affirming to see! Of course, there were a few people who pushed back and claims that was outside of our mission.
As an out person in my organization, I wanted to see our leadership respond. I know I’m affirmed in my organization, but seeing this conversation happen without my leadership chiming in didn’t feel great – especially since I had spoken out as a member of the community in question. I can’t tell you how amazing it felt when my leadership sent a short and sweet email saying we, as an organization, would definitely be happy to sign on to that letter.
I do want to touch on the pushback a little bit because I feel like it needs to be addressed. The pushback was on the claim that it was “political” in nature. But I want to say that when organizations or coalitions consider LGBTIQA2+ needs to be political, they are saying that heterosexual and cisgender needs are “normal.” And that normalizing is political too. That didn’t happen in a vacuum. That happened with stigmatizing, making certain identities illegal for a time, considering equal rights for those identities to be something that the majority can vote on, etc.
In before anyone says that this stuff is all new and we have to get to used to it: heterosexual and cisgender normativity is a result of colonization. Before this society and before these environmental organizations existed, across Turtle Island, there were Tribes and Nations that had space for more than two binary genders. Through war, colonization, and forced assimilation, some of those traditions were wiped out, but some Tribes and Nations were able to keep their traditions going. And the Pan-Indian Movement, love it or hate it, decided in 1990 to reclaim Two Spirit identity and make space for those traditions across the diaspora. To ignore those traditions or claim them as new, and consider the dominating Western binary as “normal” is further colonization. Okay, off the soapbox.
We got inclusive health care in the Safety Needs, but I think that we need documented Gender Transition Guidelines in the Belonging needs. Having Guidelines accessible to employees so they don’t have to out themselves to read them is great. Having the Guidelines period helps your HR team adjust when an employee transitions. The guidelines should include what accommodations the organization will make, what the transitioning employee can expect from management, expectations for staff in affirming the employee, how to adjust personnel and administrative records, and how to communicate to coworkers and clients about the changes (per the employee’s needs and wants).
While a lot of these needs can look like Belonging Needs, I think it goes a step further. This is where coworkers are encouraged and given materials to review on how to be open-minded and affirming to their coworkers, especially those that are transitioning after hire.
The organization and coworkers should demonstratively value equity over money. In a lot of companies, LGBTIQA2+ people have been asked to endure dehumanizing conditions from clients, donors, volunteers, or coalition partners for the sake of the cause. They should never be asked to do this. And the LGBTIQA2+ employees should be able to count on the C-Suite leadership to speak out for them. They should not have to navigate issues on their own (unless they would prefer to).
When corrected on a name or pronoun, coworkers should be expected (and aware of the expectation) to apologize and course correct. They should know it is important not to make a big deal about it (so that the harmed party feels they have to make the coworker feel better or so that it draws more attention to the person being deadnamed or mispronouned). So they should apologize quickly of thank the person for remind them, repeat the correct pronoun, and move on.
On a higher level, LGBTIQA2+ people should be listened to and trusted as content experts in their own experience. No one outside of their experience should be talking over them when they are sharing their lived experience. After all, they are living it. And by listening and trusting, cisgender and heterosexual coworkers can learn how to create a more affirming company culture.
The best example I have for that is me being given the opportunity by other organizations and my own organization to give talks on this topic. My workplace recognized my unique experience and expertise on the matter and paid me my salary to teach about affirming pronouns during a JEDI journey session for that coalition I was talking about earlier. They offered to be guinea pigs for me test my presentations on. My coworker sat in on a conference call because I was nervous about asserting my needs. My coworkers trust me when I say that certain phrasing could be problematic to certain audiences and suggest alternative phrasing.
It would be easy for an environmental nonprofit to say that this is outside of our mission and tell me they wouldn’t pay me to do these presentations and that I needed to do it on my own time. But as an affirming organization, they recognize that social justice is part of environmental justice and realize that as an LGBTIQA2+ employee who’s been through it, I need to speak out to make sure the next generation has it easier.
As an organization, realize that while the majority of your staff time needs to be focused on mission-based projects, sometimes making it easier, exciting, and affirming for your employees to work on their pet project is worth the hours; especially when that work improves the working conditions for groups in the environmental field.