Learning how to properly address a transgender person doesn’t come easy for many people.
Why? Because most people are not accustomed to it, and because transgender identify falls outside the social norms that define the world we live in.
“Most people have had limited contact with transgender people and because we don’t have a lot of life experience in that area, it naturally makes us uncomfortable,” said Matthew R. Streger, Esq., JD, MPA, NRP, Partner at Keavney & Streger, LLC, in Princeton, NJ.
It can be a major learning curve when you’re trying to learn just what to say or how to say it when working with a transgender person. One reason Streger says it’s important that people educate themselves is so they don’t cause unintentional harm or say things they don’t mean to say.
“The biggest mistake we make, in the employment law context, is not addressing these issues proactively by making people aware of appropriate terms and concepts,” he said.
Streger gravitates toward working with transgender people because he has a desire to make a difference by raising awareness.
“I believe, as an attorney and human being, in equal protection and protecting disadvantaged populations,” he said.
According to a 2017 Gallup poll, the number of LGBT people in the U.S. who self-identify as such ranges from 4% to 12%, or 10 million people. The poll data suggests that millennials are two times more likely to consider themselves LGBT.
Mind your Ps and Qs
When someone on your team has identified as a transgender person, it goes without saying, but be respectful.
Snide comments about a coworker’s gender identity, aside from their mean-spirited nature, can put them in harm’s way, said Tyger Gearheart, P-CC, FP-C, a paramedic for 10 years.
“A coworker accidentally outed me as transgender,” Gearheart said. “The patient’s husband heard it and his behavior changed. He said, ‘Get out of my house before I shoot.’”
Situations like that are not only awkward, but they also can put the whole crew at risk of becoming victims of a violent hate crime.
Transgender people are some of the most misunderstood people. Coworkers tend to make plenty of incorrect assumptions, according to Gearheart.
“People think I would be sexually attracted to them or hit on them or that I wanted to be in a women’s bathroom,” Gearheart said.
If a coworker purposely reveals that a person is transgender, it also can put them at risk of sexual assault. When that happened to Gearheart, she was later groped in the back of the ambulance and stalked on social media.
Be mindful when interacting with transgender people
Here’s a list of dos and don’ts when you interact with them, according to Gearhart.
Don’t try to embarrass a transgender coworker.
Do ask them what pronoun they prefer, he or she?
Don’t ask questions about their genitals or whether they have had surgery.
Do apologize if you accidentally refer to a coworker as she but you meant he. But don’t do this while treating patients. Instead, wait until finishing the call, then apologize.
Don’t share too much information.
Do realize some questions you might have about a transgender coworker are simply none of your business.
Don’t assume a transgender coworker plans to “hit on you.”
Don’t misgender a coworker in front of patients. If it happens by accident, apologize later.
Do familiarize yourself with transgender terminology. Misgender happens when calling a person the opposite gender they present as. A transgender female prefers the pronoun she, not he.
Do talk to a supervisor if another coworker says or does something that puts your personal safety at risk.
Remember, workplace discrimination is against the law
Discrimination based on a person being transgender is illegal.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is outlined on the National Center for Transgender Equality website, protects transgender people at work.
Job discrimination for people who identify as transgender comes in many forms, including sex discrimination.
The National Center for Transgender Equality gives the following examples of sex-based harassment that violates a person’s employment rights:
- Inappropriate jokes about transgender people
- Derogatory statements
- Incorrect use of pronouns — repeatedly and intentionally
- Invasive questions
- Harassment because of gender identity