Bigender, cisgender, gender fluid, neither, trans female, genderqueer, transsexual man, two-spirit. These are just a few of the 58 custom gender options available for selection when editing your Facebook profile. For EMS leaders and providers who’ve grown up with male or female as the only two options on employment applications and ePCRs, this can be confusing and uncomfortable. As leaders, it is our job to ensure that our employers are safe at their work place.
In America, people are protected from workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, age, sex, national origin and pregnancy. Yet in 34 of our U.S. states there is no legal protection from being passed over for promotions or being fired based on gender identity or expression. According to one study of 6,450 transgender people, 90% have experienced harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job. Those of us in EMS leadership positions have a wonderful opportunity to lead the creation of an inclusive and safe workplace for all employees.
First a few orienting concepts:
“Gender Identity” is how we think of ourselves, whether as a boy, a girl or not sure. Cisgender is a person who identifies with their birth sex. Transgender or trans is a person whose gender identity is different from the sex assigned at birth. Only 1% of transgender people have sex reassignment surgery.
“Assigned sex” is the determination made at birth. It’s what the doctor, midwife, nurses, parents and family label the newborn. Based on external genitalia, we decide “it’s a girl” or “it’s a boy.” Sexual orientation is whom a person loves (e.g., gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual).
In the workplace, it is the leaders’ responsibility to help make sure that the environment is safe and inclusive. If an employee makes known that they are transgender or considering sex reassignment surgery, here are a few tangible steps that can be taken to ensure their place in the work environment is protected:
1. Make sure that administrative stuff is covered: new name tags, changing their gender in the HR system, etc.
2. Bathroom/locker room safety: Single stall unisex restrooms are the easiest if possible. If the person must choose between the men’s room and the women’s room, then make it clear to the workforce that this person is using this bathroom now and that this is something that management has set up.
3. Bring in someone from the local community who can speak to transgender issues. Set it up so that employees can ask questions about their coworker’s transition.
Work with your transitioning employee to re-introduce them to the rest of the workforce. When one of my paramedics, Linda, came to me and said that she was undergoing a gender transition to become a man, we sat down together and wrote a letter and an all-company memo for the rest of our workforce.
“Dear Friends, Coworkers and Community,
Most of you know me as Linda Scott Johnson. It is with pride, excitement and some natural anxiety that I share the following with you, because I want to share my journey with all of you openly and honestly. I have come to a place in my life of knowing very clearly that I am a transgender man and I will be starting physical changes by medically transitioning this year. This has been more of a personal struggle than I could have ever imagined, and my respect for transgender, transsexual and gender-queer people has elevated immensely. I can hardly find the words to describe the journey.
This is a new walk for me, a somewhat more complex journey with many layers coming out. My hope is that you will choose to walk by my side as we all live and learn more about gender constructs, roles, pressure, biases and general discomforts day by day.
I am going by Scottie Johnson now, as well as using masculine pronouns such as “he/him/his.” I recently began taking testosterone and I am starting to see and feel subtle changes. The physical changes differ from person to person, but I imagine you all will begin to see the changes this year.
With that, I also want to let you all know that I am keenly aware of just how different this may be for some of you who may not have any transgender people in your lives. I have been dealing with that feeling for a while now myself, but the absolute rightness of fully embracing who I truly am is wonderful beyond telling. All I ask of you is to show respect for me by simply trying to remember the name change and the pronouns. I know we’ll all forget or slip up, and I’m not worried about that–I just want you to try. It may bring up discomfort for you, and for some that discomfort may be more overwhelming than you thought; again, I just ask that you try. I would rather you ask me questions than wonder and make assumptions, so please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m happy to share my exciting journey and talk about the process.
I love the way our team sets new standards for open mindedness, celebrates transitions like weddings and births, and supports each other like no other group I’ve been associated with. I’ve spent a lot of time with Scottie talking about his transition. It’s incredibly exciting for him. I cannot imagine a cooler group of people, family by choice, than ours to support him on this ride. I hope that you’ll join me in celebration and support. Let me know if you have any questions.
As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Let’s work together to make the world a better place for our transgender teammates, friends and family.
Max Rorty is a social worker at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, Calif., and a public speaker and author on transgender healthcare.