There are good reasons why all organisations today should have a better understanding of transgender issues. Here is a group of people who may be employees, customers, clients or patients who we are increasingly likely to meet in our working lives. In the past it was assumed to be acceptable to see this minority as an object of cliché rich humour. Management of diversity issues in other areas has taught us that there is great value to be had from understanding and working with all the different types of people who interact with an organisation. There are also legal requirements of non-discrimination that will be important.
With increasing media coverage of high profile transgender people, and more visibility than before, it is easy to assume that issues of tolerance and poor treatment are a thing of the past. But very few people can say that they know someone who is transgender or indeed that they know much about the issues faced by those who are transgender. In fact the terminology alone is confusing to most with differences between transgender, transexual, transvestite, gender fluid and more being seen as something from an alien world.
Without some knowledge of the transgender world and all it’s variations it is very easy to make mistakes. Misconceptions about who or what people are can be exposed very quickly when meeting someone new. Even worse are the biases and outright distrust that can cause distress, or worse, in those affected by it. What many may not realise is that transgender people might be around them without being known. There may be a transgender man who has no intention of revealing his background and colleagues may well not have any idea that he is transgender. Or perhaps the one who keeps that side of themselves very private and never wishes it to be seen in public. Both of these examples may react badly to outward shows of transphobia or mockery in the workplace.
As a transgender woman myself I have been able to give information and background to teams and groups. It provides an opportunity to meet someone and to ask questions openly that they might otherwise not feel able to. One team I worked with had noticed an increasing number of transgender people coming to them but they had little idea how best to approach them professionally. Many of their misconceptions were corrected in a single morning.