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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Chicago Fed looks at 'TRANSitioning in the Workplace'
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2016-05-04

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If there is any light to be found between the hatred, intolerance and antagonism cast by North Carolina's anti-LGBT bill HB2 and its counterparts in legislative committees or on House and/or Senate floors across the United States, it is in organizations like Target.

Despite concerted efforts by hate groups such as the American Family Association and One Million Moms ( which actually has 85,000 members ) to boycott its stores, Target has stood its ground in support of its transgender and gender nonconforming employees and customers to use the restroom in accordance with their gender identity.

The company is not alone.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago ( Chicago Fed ) played host to employers ranging from multibillion-dollar corporations to small businesses at its Chicago Loop offices April 27.

Human resources and management personnel gathered to learn more about the "financial, professional, interpersonal and psychological factors" affecting employees who are "TRANSitioning in the Workplace."

The event was organized by Spectrum, the Chicago Fed's LGBT employee group, and was part of the 2016 calendar of Citywide Pride events supported by the national workplace advocacy organization Out & Equal.

It was also part of the Chicago Fed's Money Smart Week of presentations. Whether deliberate or not, that alone carried its own poignant message about the financial sense of transgender inclusion over discrimination, both in hiring practices and in the workplace.

The lively discussion—with panelists Out & Equal board member and diversity consultant Lori Fox, Allied Counseling Services owner Barbra Getz, Lambda Legal Midwest Regional Office Community Educator Crispin Torres, Chicago House TransLife Care Coordinator Channyn Lynn Parker and Chicago Fed Senior Vice President, Associate Director of Research and Director of Financial Markets David Marshall ( who moderated )—put an exclamation point on how a practice of gender identity inclusion is a recognition of humanity that is ultimately beneficial for both employer and employee.

"The workplace environment is just a piece of a large life puzzle for every person," Torres said before citing statistics from Injustice at Every Turn—the report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBT Taskforce—stating that 90 percent of transgender individuals had experienced "harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job" and 26 percent had "lost a job due to being transgender or gender nonconforming."

"I came to offer an alternative perspective with regards to transgender issues in the workplace," Torres added. "Moving away from the concept of focusing on the body, focusing on the medical transition, how do you refer to someone or pronouns? The issues facing transgender people are so much more diverse, just like most people are. The question we should be asking ourselves is not 'How do I not mess up?' but 'How do I make more space, shift the conversation and change the way I think about people?' Workplace affirmation is a step beyond workplace fairness."

Recalling that she began living as her authentic self at 15, Parker reminded attendees that transgender people "are multifaceted; we are multidimensional."

Getz noted that the cost incurred by a transitioning individual is not solely financial.

"Oftentimes, it is the loss of family, the loss of friends, the loss of spouses," she said. "It can be a very devastating process and a huge adjustment. There are families who will disown you. It can get really ugly."

Fox added that, in terms of adjustments, the legal maze faced by a transgender or gender-nonconforming individual is just as momentous.

"If you think about a trans-identified person, every single legal document in their life has to change," she said. "That all starts with the process of going through a legal name change. The amount of time and money it takes is significant."

For a company to be an affirming place for a trans or gender nonconforming individual is not only a propitious way to do business but can be life-changing for the employee and his, her and their colleagues.

To that end, Fox urged attendees to think about a "culture of inclusion" that should not merely be dependent upon attaining a 100 percent score from the Human Rights Campaign ( HRC's ) Corporate Equality Index.

There are too many occasions where that number has often been rendered meaningless. While she acknowledged it as an adequate tool, Fox also noted that it "doesn't measure or change behavior."

"There can be a 100 percent score but if the jokes don't stop or the passive aggressive, negative behavior doesn't stop it can really pull an organization down," she said. "It is very powerful to have people feel safe. It is critical for your organization to have a formal gender transition in place."

"We have to hold employees accountable for their behavior and it's not being done," Getz agreed. "I have several clients whose companies are 100 percent on the Corporate Equality Index and they're terrified of coming out. Terrified. There will be a lot of times that I hear from my clients about a snide remark or a joke. A person is not just trans. They are a human being."

"We live in a conversation culture," Torres added. "We are at a time right now politically, culturally where we are trying to find a balance between how much do I need to ask this employee versus how much do they need to tell me what is appropriate."

Parker advocated for one-on-one discussions. "We always assume what people know but it ends up being the complete opposite," she said. "A good foundation helps us not only understand our trans employees but better understand ourselves. When we do that, we see the humanity in other individuals. It is something to continuously do and constantly keep in practice."

For more information about Out & Equal, visit OutAndEqual.org .


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