Trans people may find acceptance in the workplace before elsewhere.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - (L-R) Bob Speltz Senior Director of Public Affairs at The Standard, Christine Meadows, Employment & Labor Attorney at Vigilant and Sgt. Joey DeArmond of the Multnomah County Sheriffs office, talked about how the workplace is often the most progressive place in a trans persons life.

Transgender people should be looking to their employers for support and acceptance, according to a panel of Portlanders with knowledge of the subject.

At the Portland Business Alliance’s November Forum Breakfast, entitled “Transgender Employees in the Modern Workplace” the panel made it clear that making transgender people feel welcome is an important job for human resources.

It was Transgender Awareness Week, and the talk was billed as “a conversation about how an increasingly diverse workforce that includes openly transgender employees can help make businesses stronger.”

Moderator Kerry Tymchuk, Executive Director, Oregon Historical Society, pointed out that while 57 per cent of companies have policies that consider gender identity, 90 percent of trans people report discrimination and a quarter have lost a job due to bias.

She to He

They started with a definition of Transgender. Sgt. Joey DeArmond of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s office, “It’s when the person doesn’t match the gender they were born with.” DeArmond said he felt like a boy from the age of five and transitioned to male at age 37.

Bob Speltz Senior Director of Public Affairs at The Standard talked about StandOut at the Standard, and other LGBT groups in the workplace, as an important and powerful asset. “We have real time experience we can bring to our colleagues.

“Employers are looking to hang on to great people, they compete for talent,” said Speltz. In a growing economy, the mood in HR teams is that progressive policies are desirable to attract and retain talent.

DeArmond came out at work in 2015. He said he changed in his private office before forcing himself to use the men’s locker room at work. “I’d say it’s 50-50,” he said. “Some people are very open, some people are weirded out. But I think it’s important to keep using the bathroom of your choice.”

Christine Meadows, Employment & Labor Attorney at Vigilant, said transitioning was a personal and a private thing and HR departments should talk to the individual involved before making any assumptions or making anything public.

S/He to Zhe

Another thing companies have to get used to is preferred pronouns. People have started adding “My preferred gender pronouns are...” to their email signatures.

“Not all transgender employees want to be called by a gender-type pronoun. There’s a lot of politics around pronouns, but from a legal stand point in Oregon we recognize non-binary pronouns in legal identification.”

When asked why Portland is a national leader in recognizing trans issues, Meadows said, “We recognize issues before state law. We have excellent representation in in government, which adds awareness and sensitivity in the legislature.” She pointed out that 10 years ago she knew of no lawyers who had dealt with transgender employment issues.

Bob Speltz added that the universities in Oregon as great defenders of LGBT people, especially Portland State University. “Young people come here, come out, stay and make a life. Trans people are looking for what we are all looking for, a great place to live.” He said the nonprofit sector here is strong, and singled out the Q Center and Transactive.

He added that Daimler, WebMD and Intel also have Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that deal with trans issues and they are working together on trans education for employees. At the Standard, as of Jan. 1, trans people and their families can be added to the Standard’s health insurance through Aetna and Kaiser. And, he added, the company is updating the signage of its bathrooms, “to make them more inclusive, safe and comfortable for folks.”

Corporations are people people

The panel talked about single-use gender neutral bathrooms, and how no one should be compelled to use a certain bathroom, rather, given the choice. They did not talk much about the hot button issue of crossover bathroom use, that is a trans person using a communal bathroom.

DeArmond worked with the Sherriff’s Office to formulate a new booking policy for inmates. They now get to choose the gender of the person who strip-searches them, there must be two strip searchers present for a transgender person.

Three companies were commended for their fair treatment of transgender people: Adidas America, Nike and General Electric.

Moderator Kerry Tymchuk asked if the panel expected anything to change under a Trump administration, which led to a pause then laughter from the crowd.

Speltz said, rather neutrally, “I think we need to be vigilant and engage in a new way, and support our partners in this work who have the means and the tools to take action.” He said he was thinking beyond Multnomah County to the rest of the country.

SCOTUS could go either way

Meadows said gender designated bathrooms only came about in the Industrial Revolution as a way of keeping women under control, and doesn’t see much future for them.

In a case in Virginia, Gavin Grimm, who was born female but identifies as male, is suing the local school board so he may use the boys’ bathroom in Gloucester High School in southeastern Virginia. The Supreme Court announced in October it will hear the case.

North Carolina has a law that requires transgender people to use bathrooms in government buildings that correspond with the gender listed on their birth certificates. The Obama Department of Justice is suing North Carolina.

After the talk, Meadows explained that argument is around a federal regulation under a 1972 law that bans discrimination “on the basis of sex” in schools that receive federal money and whether “on the basis of sex” also covers gender identity.

Meadows said Oregon has its own laws defending trans rights. But she said, the fate of the two legal cases “Might not impact us as much in Oregon, but it might change the climate nationwide.”

One speaker said they visited Lincoln High School recently and asked the students what change they were most proud of effecting, and they agreed it was their gender-neutral bathroom. Another pointed out that five- and 10-year olds, even teenagers, wonder what all the fuss is about with trans people. “They give us older people a hard time about it!”

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