Career Advice · Let's talk about Social Justice

Embracing the Trans Community in the Workplace and on College Campuses

When being transgender comes up in conversation in my daily life, I always prepare myself to school someone. Without fail, someone will make an insensitive or ignorant comment.

“She used to be a he so I don’t know what to call him.”

“Well, I’ll just call him, ‘it.’”

Most times people are innocently coming from a place of ignorance. They may have never met a person that identifies as transgender. They may say these things and be genuinely confused by the situation.

Let’s be clear, I am not an expert on everything transgender. I don’t feel like it’s my right to tell people they are being insensitive or ignorant. However, I have been educated on how to be an ally to the LGBT community. I’ve been trained on how to work with LGBT students as they are acclimating to a college campus.

Even though I do not work on college campus right now, it is still my duty to be an ally. As an HR professional, I strongly believe that it is our role to create safe spaces, and for lack of a better term, “check people,” when they use exclusive or hurtful language.

On college campuses, transgender related topics are becoming a big deal. 

College is a time that students find themselves. They begin to identify differently. They experiment. They learn about identity formation, and intersectionality. As students become comfortable identifying in certain ways, they begin to notice amenities and resources that are lacking.

An area of inconvenience that transgender students tackle is housing. A student might appear to be stereotypically male, but identifies as female. Housing offices will assume said person is male, and force him to live with either other men, or in a single. This can be frustrating, annoying, and daunting.

Many schools across the country have implemented gender neutral housing. It’s typically reserved for upper-class students in apartment and townhouse style living accommodations, but it’s a start. It allows students, both male and female, to live with one another.

Some schools are taking other steps such as installing gender neutral restrooms: public bathrooms that are open for anyone to use regardless of gender identity. It’s a step in the right direction, even though there is plenty of work that still needs to get done.

More recently, I had a Periscope broadcast and someone asked how to approach their transgender colleague. Their colleague had recently come out as transgender and was transitioning from female to male. The curious viewer seemed very sincere. He was genuinely wondering what is appropriate to say when referring to the person’s gender.

The answer is easy. You should call the person what they prefer to be called. Ask them. The viewer’s colleague had told them he wished to use male pronouns such as he/him. If the friend has listened to and understood their colleague’s wishes, then accept their request.

You don’t have to be an expert on transgender related issues to do or say the right thing. People that identify as transgender are used to answering questions, and letting others know how they want to be identified. Respect them. Respect their space. And don’t ask intrusive questions. It’s a learning experience for everyone. Reading this blog shows that you are open to learning and embracing differences, and that’s all that we ask.

Knowing how to refer to someone is easy. The acceptance throughout a campus or an organization may not be as easy. It sucks but it is the truth. Change is always met with resistance. Change may also be slow, but it happens with simple things, such as accepting a person’s request to use particular pronouns when referring to them. Doing this is respecting someone else’s identity, whether you “understand it,” or not.

Thank you to Dennis Velez for co-authoring this piece with me. Dennis is a student affairs professional at the best university in Philadelphia. He is also a board member for CMB Professional Development Agency.

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