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Sheridan discusses workplace training and new book
by Matt Simonette
2019-04-24

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Vanessa Sheridan, who is Center on Halsted's director of gender equity and inclusion, frequently gives public trainings about the transgender community.

Sheridan's goals, she tells her audiences, are twofold: "The first is to give the best, most accurate information possible. The second goal is to keep you off your cellphones for an hour."

Sheridan gave such a training in what would initially seem to be an unlikely location this past fall, when she was asked to speak with employees of the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C.

An official told Sheridan in early correspondence that the agency "needed to enhance [their] cultural competence around this particular issue," Sheridan recalled. After a series of conversations, she went to Washington at the end of October, where she presented two training sessions.

"It was a wonderful opportunity to share information about a timely and relevant issue, with people who seemed willing to learn," Sheridan said.

After both sessions, various agency employees approached Sheridan and assured her that they "work for the agency and the country, not necessarily for the administration," she recalled. "Presidents come and go, but [agency employees] work for the nation."

She found such remarks refreshing and assuring: "It told me that, 'Yes, this nation is not going to go under, at least not at the State Department.' We do have good people working there, good people who love the country, and are interested in learning about trans folks.'

She also met a few openly transgender State Department employees, including a diplomat, Robyn McCutcheon, who was the first Foreign Service Officer to transition while serving overseas.

"The State Department is an amazing place," Sheridan recalled. The building is mammoth, like it's its own city. … I did the training in the Dean Acheson Auditorium, which was a remarkable thing—I was speaking where Hillary Clinton used to do her press briefings."

She mostly steered clear of politics, but included one factoid about government officials: "There have been more U.S. Congressmen than trans people arrested for sexual misconduct in public restrooms. I threw that out there and waited for a response; fortunately the response was a lot of laughter."

Sheridan added, "I've been doing this long enough to feel that I can come across as pretty non-threatening, and people figure out after a couple of minutes that I'm only there to just give them facts, and let them do with those facts what they want."

Sheridan also had a fourth book recently published, entitled Transgender in the Workplace: The Complete Guide to the New Authenticity for Employers and Gender-Diverse Professionals. It's a follow-up to a book she wrote about 10 years ago on transgender equality in the workplace.

"In the last 10 years, we've made some incredible strides as a community," she explained. "So I thought it was time to create a new resource that not only involved the progress that we've been able to make, but also introduces what I believe is a relatively new paradigm."

She intended for the book to be a tool for both organizations and transgender people to leverage what she called "gender authenticity" to mutual benefit. Sheridan defined gender authenticity as "the right of every individual to express their orientation, and/or identity, without fear of coercion to conform to gender stereotypes."

The overlying premise, Sheridan added, "is that if we can get out of this coercion piece—being forced to adhere to expectations that accompany the gender binary—we can also get away from the whole alphabet soup [letter abbreviations representing different community segments] and focus on being authentic human beings. 'Authentic' people deliver higher performance."

Sheridan said she thinks the concept is an idea "whose time is here. I'm trying to introduce it in a way that's accessible, easily understandable and easily implementable. The book is going to be a good tool to help people do that."


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