Supporting Transgender Youth and Adults In an Anti-Trans Time
This is a response to Brian’s blog, “What Leaders Need to Consider When Responding to Current Events”
Hearing celebrities chant “Gay! Gay! Gay!” on social media and national television has been an entertaining response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and a wonderful show of support for some of the individuals impacted by this bill. Transgender youth, the main targets of this bill and over a hundred other bills across the country, remain in the background. Public outcry only seemed to come when the bill was perceived as targeting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth and has not extended to bills that focus predominantly on transgender people.
. . . a larger trend that has been increasingly wearing on me and other members of the transgender community: the erasure of the lived experiences of trans people in our communities and workplaces.
I had an immediate gut reaction when Brian sent out his first message to the Hummingbird community about the “Don’t Say Gay,” bill. But, to be frank, I was frustrated, not necessarily because of his specific message, which I found to be insightful and well written, but because it reflected a larger trend that has been increasingly wearing on me and other members of the transgender community: the erasure of the lived experiences of trans people in our communities and workplaces.
While Brian’s statement was well-intended, it was just another example of an ongoing trend that lacks support for the transgender members of the LGBTQ+ community—even from people within our own community. Take the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, for example; according to a report by Politico, Ron Desantis’s and other lawmakers’ passion for the bill stems from the story of a woman who filed a lawsuit against her child’s school because she believed her child’s school “made them trans” and did not include her in the “decision.” As a result, the bill prevents students from discussing, sharing, and learning about gender and sexuality-related topics. In addition, educators, administrators, and guidance counselor staff are prohibited from providing support and teaching on these topics. The fear of children being transgender, nonbinary, or queer led to the creation of this bill.
As Brian mentioned in his blog, Hummingbird has taken a stand against legislation attacking the transgender, non-binary (NB), and gender non-conforming (GNC) community. Last year, in 2021, when much of this legislation was proposed, Hummingbird spoke up in our newsletter and on our social media. I also created our Trans 101 Guide and co-hosted a Hummingbird Hour about gender identity. I felt seen, heard, and supported by these efforts. While I understand that it’s not realistic for any organization to speak up about each piece of legislation or on each story about hate crimes, or attacks on the transgender community, I’m disappointed Hummingbird hasn’t spoken out recently in a more direct way, as some of the anti-trans legislation has started to get passed – causing real harm, to real humans.
Seeing this bill gain traction was no surprise to me or others within the trans community. It was simply added to an ever-expanding list of states trying to attack our access to sports, healthcare, and restrooms, which have been going on for over a year with relatively little outcry or media attention. Though there has been a long history of oppression of the LGBTQ+ community, January of 2021 marked what some consider a “new wave” of anti-transgender activism. However, when this Florida bill was labeled the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, it became a huge issue for many celebrities, companies, and individuals. People became very passionate about fighting to kill the bill because it now focused on the LGB part of the community and were not moved to read more about the bill and learn about the many other bills that impact the transgender community.
It has been and continues to be painful to be a member of the transgender community, particularly in the past six months, to see how many of these bills are passing with very little care or attention from the general population. Hummingbird Humanity has established itself as an LGBTQ+ owned and operated firm. We are proud of that publicly, so it hurt me to see a statement that included just one of the 100+ anti-trans bills as an afterthought.
When our CEO, Brian, shared his most recent blog post about his decision not to make a specific statement about the war between Russia and Ukraine, one of the key questions he encouraged leaders to ask themselves was: “is this statement relevant to who we are as a company or what we do?” I think this is a great starting point. Hummingbird isn’t a political firm, nor do we specialize or work in international affairs. Though all humans are impacted by global pain and conflict, the war in Ukraine is outside of our expertise as a company.
The decision to make a statement can’t end with just the relevance to the company’s role, however. A second and perhaps even more critical question is: ‘who is watching?’
The decision to make a statement can’t end just with the relevance to the company’s role, however. A second and perhaps even more crucial question is: “who is watching?” Do you have employees or community members who you know are directly impacted? As an example, consider the public demand for Disney to make a statement around the Florida bill. Is LGBTQ+ inclusion a specific part of Disney’s work as a company? No. But do they have many LGBTQ+ employees feeling scared and unsupported? Do they sell lots of rainbow merchandise to LGBTQ+ fans during Pride month? Do they have a specific influence in Florida that gives them more power than the average company? Yes, to all of the above. People were watching who needed a statement to come from them.
For me, these conversations and feelings go beyond issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. To be truly transparent, the last six months have been some of the most challenging months of my life, even more difficult than the year I spent isolated as a young queer person in the closet. I am more public about my identity than I have been, I am more comfortable with myself, and I am also more afraid. To know there are so many people in my community who are having their lives ripped apart by being removed from their sports team or being denied gender-affirming medical care breaks my heart. In some of the most heartbreaking and terrifying instances of these laws, multiple states are attempting to define supporting a transgender child as felony child abuse and removing children from their homes because their parents support their identities and seek out gender-affirming medical care.
The current state of affairs has impacted my mood, sleep, work performance, focus, motivation, and sense of belonging. I feel a deep hurt in every part of my life. One of the most critical misunderstandings people have about these bills is that I and other transgender adults shouldn’t be upset or worried because they aren’t explicitly impacting us. The reality is, we can see how youth in our community have become a consistent target politically and socially, and we know it’s a very short leap between them and us. We also know that if this wave of hate had happened a year ago, five years ago, or even ten years ago, any of us transgender adults could have been the ones specifically targeted by these laws. Many of us were once trans youth.
I feel like there is diversity, equity, and inclusion at work, and I feel seen and respected by all of my colleagues. But, knowing that there was so much hate directed towards my community without any direct public statement of support or anyone checking in to see how I was doing made me feel like I wasn’t cared about—even if all the DEI boxes were checked.
When making a statement, leaders need to consider how their words impact the people within their organizations and communities and remember who is watching. The goal of making a statement around current events is to express care for the people affected and spread information so that more care can be directed toward these individuals. Hence, leaders need to be intentional about showing that they care for all of their people.
At Hummingbird Humanity, I know that I can put a meeting on Brian’s calendar and share my feedback with him, and he genuinely listens to me. Though there are many dynamics at play in the workplace between an employee and their supervisor or CEO, a human-centered workplace culture encourages difficult and sometimes uncomfortable conversations, where folks can recognize their shared humanity and help each other grow. After talking to Brian, where we shared both of our thoughts on when a statement is and is not impactful or helpful, we each left with some additional food for thought. This is naturally easier at a small organization like Hummingbird, but do you have channels for your employees to feel heard and to let you know when they aren’t feeling cared for?
When you make a statement, it’s also worth taking time to run it by community members that you seek to support before releasing it to make sure it is landing with the intended impact. The more voices you include in the conversation, the more likely it is that everyone will feel seen, heard, and cared for.
The time to remain silent in fear of saying the wrong thing is so last decade, speak up, be willing to make mistakes, and learn from them.
To create belonging and care for trans employees, especially now, it’s not enough to have everyone share their pronouns and call it a day. Check-in on your trans employees to see how current events are impacting them and if they need additional support. Examine your structures and policies to ensure they are supported from all sides. Most importantly, be vocal and firm in your support for the transgender community. The time to remain silent in fear of saying the wrong thing is so last decade, speak up, be willing to make mistakes, and learn from them. We should all work to protect trans kids and queer kids and create a future where everyone can do so much more than survive.
Note: Brian has invited me to co-host a conversation about the current onslaught of attacks against the trans, NB, and GNC community next month for a special edition of Hummingbird Hour on Tuesday, May 24, from 12-1 pm EST. More details will be forthcoming.
Project Manager | Consultant
he / him | LGBTQ+
Ben Greene is a graduate of Brandeis University and a DEI professional. As one of the only out transgender people in his town, he became established as a go-to source of information about the trans community and fell in love with advocacy and education.
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