When Harassment Isn’t Harassment

Why Trans People Are Tired of Educating Employers

Shana Carroll
Oct 30, 2019 · 5 min read
Zosia Mamet and Elizabeth Moss on Mad Men all rights owned by AMC

When I look at the calendar I see it reads 2019, but when LGBTQ people head into a majority of workplaces across the country it can read more like 1959. Why? Because as the Supreme Court measures their response to LGBTQ protections in the workplace many of us are still left in the murky in-between. What this leaves us with is a state of employment where HR policies may indicate we are a protected class, but very little of the workday and environment feels protected or included.

How do we know this is the case? A comprehensive study on LGBTQ, and trans workplace experiences in 2011 discovered, or more importantly, shared with the nation that 90% of transgender employees had faced discrimination on the job. Further the following was uncovered:

  • 8% to 17% of gay and transgender workers report being passed over for a job or fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • 10% to 28% received a negative performance evaluation or were passed over for a promotion because they were gay or transgender.
  • 7% to 41% of gay and transgender workers were verbally or physically abused or had their workplace vandalized.

These stats should be staggering, being fired, turned down, or given negative reviews because of your identity? Being physically or verbally abused because of who you love? All under the Obama era protections that included gender identity, and sexual orientation in the federal mandates for workplaces, and employers. Further as we fast forward from 2011 to today, 48% of LGBTQ+ people live in states with no workplace protection laws on the books. Also, in 2019 studies show that 58% of ALL LGBTQ+ workers have faced harassment at some time in the workplace. Also in 2019 1 in 4 transgender people have lost a job because of their identity (25% of the trans workforce) and in eight years since the comprehensive workplace study the percentage of transgender harassment has dropped from 90% to 80% of trans employees.

Why are these numbers so high?I believe it is due to the following factors. First the Republican platform to equate mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people with religious freedom. What I mean by this is the idea that the Supreme Court had to hear a case on whether it was legal or not for a man to deny a cake to someone because of their orientation, and relationship. If we are in a country that finds a reason for a cake to be religious, what would it mean then for these same people to have to work alongside a trans, or gay person? If a cake is not made, the same belief system will not allow for the respect of pronouns, or the sanctity of our marriages and relationships. Therefore when things are reported in the workplace we face the uphill battle of showing why religious freedom doesn’t trump our basic dignity, and that is a hard battle to fight, especially as we face the stress of the harassment. Additionally, right wing pundits rally support by stating it is against their faith to use chosen names, and pronouns because it makes them disrespect their faith. Well, no, it actually doesn’t but two, at work your religion is and shouldn’t be proselytizing and preaching! So we are currently in a country where we have to debate basic human rights and dignity versus someone’s conception of religion. It is a murky area that shouldn’t be, the founders of the country explicitly stated we should all be free to life, liberty and happiness and we should all be equal. That means no matter what your religious beliefs, they don’t dictate someone else’s life, and furthermore, I highly doubt your religion founded on a God of Love would want you to be so insufferable as to attack someone else’s dignity 24/7 (but that’s another post).

Secondly, the majority of Human Resources Departments are ill-equipped to support their LGBTQ+ employees. As laws have been slow to change, the process of training those working in HR have also slowed. For example, when a policy states that gender and gender identity are protected classes what does that mean? For many employers this immediately goes into the realm of sexual harassment. For example, men shouldn’t sexually harass women. That’s where most minds go. However, we know in the workplace men are most likely to sexually harass other men with comments such as losing a man card, not being man enough, being a “sissy” and more. Also, sexual harassment does not address gender harassment, and harassment as a broader policy. More so, things that trans people face such as being deadnamed if they transitioned and stayed with a company and misgendering regardless of workplace are common. But worse yet, when an employee that did not transition at a company, is still misgendered it is coded as a mistake. Then HR passes the onus back to the employee facing the harassment as someone that needs to extend grace, and understand that this is new for those involved. But the truth is, calling any coworker the wrong name repeatedly, and the wrong gender is harassment. However, many people in HR are unaware of the massive stats associated with misgendering and suicide, and cis HR managers don’t understand the pain of why pronouns are a big deal.

This all leads into the HR department saying it is willing to learn, and the company is willing to learn. But then they expect you as a trans person to out yourself if you came into the job as a trans employee and lead training, or to send some helpful information their way. Worse yet, they seem to be rather frustrated when you tell them you will not be Google, and you will not be an HR trainer. They don’t understand why if you are reporting harassment you also don’t want to be the poster child for training on LGBTQ+ issues. Well, that’s simple, we are already facing harassment, we don’t want to open ourselves up to more.

Moreover, as an HR manager it is your job to enforce the protected classes, and if you can’t do that, you should seek training from others, but not expect your LGBTQ+ employees to be your resource. Many of us simply want to come to work, and do our job, and go home. Adding the pressure that we need to be the one LGBTQ+ person to do our job, educate HR, and train the rest of the company isn’t in many of our job descriptions, and when you already don’t enforce policy it makes us even less enthusiastic that anything will tangibly change.

To wrap this up, this is why the Equality Act is so important, this is why the Supreme Court must protect all Americans. As a trans person we still face extreme pressure in the workforce, and in our daily lives. We cannot be your personal tutor. We aren’t called to be your tutor. As a colleague, as a workplace the weight is on your shoulders to do the research, and enforce policy equally. Stop dismissing our pain, and harassment as little mistakes, and then expecting us to be your best friend, your longest tenured staff, or your educator.

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

The Transition Transmission

Shana Carroll

Written by

My journey as a transwoman navigating life in the Bible Belt, living as witch, and fighting the cistem.

The Transition Transmission

The place to embrace the Triumphs and Tribulations of those who Transitioned and risked everything to live authentically.

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