Workplace Conference Embrances Transgender Issues

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #097, Spring 2002.

by Janis Walworth

In past years the annual Out and Equal Workplace Summit has included workshops on transgender issues, but never as many as at the most recent conference, which was held the first weekend of October 2001. The Summit, which addresses lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues in the workplace, brings together LGBT employees, Human Resource (HR) and Diversity professionals, union advocates, and others who want to create safe and equitable work environments for LGBT people.

The conference, held just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati in Erlanger, Kentucky, was smaller than expected due to slashed budgets and fear of flying in the wake of September?s terrorist attack. Nonetheless, a full schedule of workshops was presented to an enthusiastic audience from all over the country. Six of the 45 workshops offered during the three-day conference were about transgender issues.
Jamison Green led off the transgender workshops Friday morning with ?Doing Effective (Trans)Gender Education.? Jamison, the Chair of Gender Education & Advocacy (GEA), has been doing transgender awareness training since 1990. Although his presentation got a late start because the morning plenary session ran late, Jamison packed a lot of information into the time available. Engaging and approachable as always, he presented a model of gender education that LGBT advocates can use to help demystify transgender experience. Jamison included handouts from the GEA and Transgender at Work websites (see resources below). His session was well-attended and enthusiastically received.

Friday afternoon, Janis Walworth and Michele K?mmerer of the Center for Gender Sanity, who had offered workshops at three prior Out and Equal conferences, gave a workshop called ?Transgendered Workers: An Untapped Resource.? In a departure from their previous workshops, which focused on how to manage transition in the workplace, this presentation informed HR professionals about the advantages of hiring and retaining transgendered people. Michele?s story of her transition as a captain in the Los Angeles Fire Department helped participants look beyond stereotypical ideas about transsexuals and see that transgendered people may have many qualities that are desirable in an employee.

Janis and Michele?s workshop was followed by ?Embracing Transgender Employees in the Workplace? by Tim Frost, who transitioned from female to male on his job as a technician for a communications company in Cleveland. Tim?s story is notable for the fact that he was able to obtain full reimbursement for his reassignment surgeries from his insurance company. Besides giving basic transgender information, Tim discussed guidelines for employers, rights for transitioning employees, and ways to show support for transgendered workers.

On Saturday, Sarah Rook, Senior Technical Associate at Shell Oil, offered ?Gender Identity: Transition Issues in the Workplace? with Bob Stanfield, her supervisor, and Donna Zimmer, a Diversity Consultant for Shell. This unique presentation showed a workplace transition from the perspective of a transitioning employee, through the eyes of a supervisor, and from an HR viewpoint. Some of the factors the Shell team cited as contributing to Sarah?s successful transition were: diversity training, the commitment and education of senior management, the willingness of the employee to educate and work with the company, having a committed HR representative, and the utilization of external consultants to help train and advise.

Another first for this conference was a presentation on crossdressers in the workplace. This workshop, entitled ?Is There a Crossdresser in Your Workplace? Does it Matter?,? was presented by a panel of four crossdressers: Jennette Caden, Antonia D?Amato, Jan DeBussy, and Marsha Dimel, all members of Crossport. Many participants had never knowingly met a crossdresser before or heard them speak about their issues, and they asked questions about all aspects of crossdressing. Panelists discussed the possibility of crossdressing on the job, addressing questions of why a company would want to allow an employee to crossdress, ways to deal with business issues raised by crossdressing, and how to create a transgender-friendly workplace.

The final transgender workshop of the conference was a panel consisting of Michele K?mmerer, Jamison Green, Mary Ann Horton, and Janis Walworth. The panelists, all experts on transgender issues in the workplace, spoke from their personal perspectives as a male-to-female transsexual, a female-to-male transsexual, a crossdresser, and a partner of a transsexual, respectively. After introducing themselves, panelists answered wide-ranging questions from an audience that overflowed the room. The workshop provided participants with an opportunity to ask about issues that had been brought up during the conference, as well as other workplace and personal issues.

The Entertainment Committee, chaired by local transgender activist Paula Ison, arranged a riverboat cruise on Friday evening, complete with a transgendered honky tonk piano player, Vicki D?Salle of Cincinnati. Paula, who is active in both the Mormon and Metropolitan Community (MCC) churches, was co-presenter of a workshop titled ?Gays, God, and the Workplace,? which has been a popular presentation at the Out and Equal conference for several years.

On Saturday night, a banquet was held and awards were given to individuals and organizations that have helped create workplaces that support LGBT employees. Awards were presented to IBM, Motorola, and PRIDE, the employee resource group at Walt Disney. Two Kodak employees shared the award for a straight ally who has furthered equal treatment of LGBT employees. Finally, the Trailblazer Award, honoring an LGBT person who has made a significant contribution to advancing workplace equity, was given to transgender activist Mary Ann Horton.

Mary Ann, recently retired from her position as Tech Manager at Avaya and formerly an employee at Lucent Technologies, led a successful effort at Lucent to obtain transgender inclusion in nondiscrimination policy, insurance coverage for transsexual medical needs, and workplace education on transgender issues. She pioneered the concept of occasional crossdressing at work without a full-time transition, successfully crossdressing from time to time at both Lucent and Avaya. Mary Ann chairs Transgender at Work, a project that helps employers and employees improve their workplaces to enable their transgendered employees to perform at their full potential. Mary Ann?s wife Beth was present at the awards ceremony.

Another highlight for transgendered conference participants was the screening of ?No Dumb Questions,? a 24-minute documentary that won an award for best short film at the 2001 San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. In this film, three sisters, ages six, nine, and eleven, ponder the fact that their Uncle Bill is becoming Aunt Barbara. The film takes us from the girls? first questions through their meeting Barbara to their reflections on their experience. The fact that children, particularly young children, can handle and even be enriched by knowing a transgendered person is powerfully demonstrated in this film.

Transgendered participants came to the Out and Equal Summit from as close as Cincinnati and as far away as Los Angeles. Non-transgendered participants, whether they were HR professionals, leaders of employee resource groups, or employees at major corporations, were eager to learn about transgender issues. The transgender workshops complemented and reinforced each other, and some common themes emerged: Transgendered people can be valuable employees; companies can handle transition on the job and even permit occasional crossdressing without catastrophic consequences; educating people in the workplace is of primary importance; and transgendered people should use the restroom appropriate for their appearance, a principle Mary Ann Horton calls ?the principle of least astonishment.?

Janis Walworth is cofounder and Director of the Center for Gender Sanity. She and her partner, Michele K?mmerer, consult with employers regarding transition on the job and offer sensitivity training about transgender issues. They can be reached at or 310-670-2222.