Tips for Working with Transgender Coworkers

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Transgender people are employed in every industry and profession.  Based on recent estimates by the Williams Institute at UCLA there are over 6,000 transgender people of working age in the Lehigh Valley.  Many of them are not out yet but are think about it.  So you may be working with a trans person but just not know it yet.  With that in mind, here are five tips for working with a trans person (Adapted from the Transgender Law Center).

  1. Demonstrate Respect: Transgender coworkers do not expect any special treatment. Treating a transgender coworker with respect means addressing them by the name and pronoun that reflects their gender identity. If you are unsure of what pronoun to use, you can politely ask your coworker how they would like to be addressed. Also, just like all coworkers, transgender people do not want other employees talking about them behind their backs or making fun of them. Treat your coworkers the way you would want to be treated at work.
  2. Recognize the Difference Between Your Personal Values and The Community Values Of Your Workplace: Some people have political, cultural, and/or religious objections to someone being transgender. Being professional and respectful to a transgender coworker does not require abandoning these beliefs. It does, however, mean that you may not act upon them in the workplace and instead that you uphold common workplace values of dignity and respect for all your coworkers. Transgender and non-transgender employees want to be treated respectfully; the best way to do that is to separate out private values from workplace conduct.
  3. Respect Your Coworker’s Confidentiality and Privacy: Many nontransgender people have a lot of questions about their transgender coworker’s gender transition. However, it is inappropriate to ask a coworker – transgender or not – questions about their private medical history, such as whether they have had surgery. It is likely that some coworkers feel comfortable enough with one another to discuss private issues, but it is important that you not assume that your transgender coworker will want to discuss their private health care matters with you if you ask. Instead allow your coworker to initiate any conversation about their transition. And if they do share such information with you. Remember to keep it private and not discuss it with others unless you are told that it is OK to do so.
  4. Don’t Assume That Your Transgender Coworkers Know Everything About Transgender Issues: While some transgender coworkers may have a special interest in discussing transgender-related issues, others may not. It might make sense to you to discuss a news story or movie about a transgender issue with your coworker. The same might be true if you have a question about a transgender civil rights or medical issue. Before doing so, however, make sure that your coworker really wants to discuss these things. What you may find is that they have other shared interests with you that they’d much rather discuss. Just because someone is transgender does not mean that they wish to discuss every transgender-related issue that may arise.
  5. Help Coworkers Who Are Having Trouble With Another Employee’s Transition:  Sometimes one of your non-transgender coworkers may have difficulty showing respect to their transgender coworker. Others may mistakenly use the transgender coworker’s old name out of habit and may need to be gently reminded about the new name or pronoun. Other times, the person may have trouble separating their personal values from the community values of the workplace. In those instances, it is helpful if you talk to them about how their behavior affects not only your transgender coworker, but you as well. This will help them understand that their actions have larger consequences than they may know.

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