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What can my organization do to be more supportive of my gender identity? Elaine Varelas explores

Coming out at transgender at work is nerve-wracking enough, but the daily struggles such as deciding which bathroom to use can add more layers of stress. Elaine Varelas explores ways to make the work environment more inclusive, as well as promoting positive, educational workplace experiences.

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Q: My organization only has gendered bathrooms. I’ve recently come out as transgender at work, and I’m nervous to start using the restrooms consistent with my gender identity. What should I do? Are there HR policies or resources my organization might be able to use for help?

A: If there aren’t Human Resources policies in place at your organization now, then hopefully there will be right after you meet with your organization’s representative to ask for support. While they may or may not be able to create non-gendered bathrooms (building or space limitations could be an inhibitor), the organization can only benefit from creating a more inclusive environment for its employees. This would include educating employees at the organization to prevent any kind of uncomfortable situations.

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One clear fact is that your colleagues should be respectful, no matter the circumstance. Being able to reduce any anxiety you have and to develop a comfort level to use the appropriate restroom for your gender identity should be the highest priority.

Not all of your colleagues have the information or education they need to be respectful, however. Just like anywhere else, you’re going to find that some people respond to your transition smoothly, while others don’t understand or know how to respond respectfully. Your HR leaders should make information and resources available to your teammates.

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After consulting with Dan Michaud, Chief Human Resources Officer at Fenway Health, a leading organization in the care and inclusion of transgender and gender-diverse employees in the office, he said this: “The transgender community faces daily obstacles in all facets of their lives. As employers, we must seek to provide support and understanding by creating a welcoming environment. Fenway Health provides many resources for LGBTQIA+ people and underserved communities.” For more information about their resources and mission, visit their website at Fenwayhealth.org or reach out via email at [email protected].

To those who do have a more informed understanding: You can be an ally by aiding others in the learning process. If you hear disparaging or disrespectful language, speak up in favor of educating the individual rather than standing by and allowing them to continue their behavior. Don’t be afraid to speak to your colleagues when they use the wrong pronouns, deliberately or otherwise. If you’re in a situation where you can’t speak up, consult HR to find out how you can develop skills that will allow you to do that in the future. It may be helpful to ground yourself in your organization’s mission when interrupting disrespectful or ill-informed comments – remind your colleagues that your organization seeks to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment for all.

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And to those who are doing your best, but find yourself slipping up: Don’t worry, and don’t over-apologize. Just correct yourself and move on. Support is demonstrated in the long game. We are all learning and growing together, and by making an effort or apologizing when you make a mistake, you are demonstrating your growth to those around you.

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