Working with Transgender Coworkers

Transgender people are employed in every industry and profession throughout the country, and deserve a safe and inclusive workplace. The following tips can help you keep a workplace environment that is welcoming for all employees.

Recognize the difference between your personal values and the community values of your workplace. Some people have political, cultural, and religious objections to someone being transgender. Being polite and respectful to a transgender coworker does not require abandoning these beliefs. Instead, being polite simply requires that these beliefs are not acted upon in the workplace. After all, transgender and non-transgender people alike want to be treated respectfully; the best way to do that is to separate out private values from workplace conduct.

Respect your coworkers’ confidentiality and privacy. Many non-transgender people have a lot of questions about their transgender coworkers’ gender transition. However, it is inappropriate to ask a coworker questions about their private medical history. Certainly, friends talk about things that coworkers don’t, and some coworkers will feel comfortable enough with one another to discuss private issues. Regardless, it is important that you do not assume that your transgender coworker will want to discuss their private health care matters with you. Instead allow your coworker to initiate any conversation about their transition.

Help coworkers who are having trouble with another employee’s transition. Sometimes one of your non-transgender coworkers may have difficulty showing respect to their transgender coworker. The person may mistakenly use the transgender coworker’s old name out of habit and may need to be gently reminded about the new name or pronoun. Other times, the person may have trouble separating their personal values from the community values of the workplace. In those instances, it is helpful if you talk to them about how their behavior affects not only your transgender coworker, but you as well. This will help them understand that their actions have larger consequences than they may know.

Don’t assume that your transgender coworkers know everything about all transgender issues. While some transgender coworkers may have a special interest in discussing transgender-related issues, others may not. It might make sense to you to discuss a news story or movie about a transgender issue with your coworker. The same might be true if you have a question about a transgender civil rights or medical issue. Before doing so, however, make sure that your coworker really wants to discuss these things. What you may find is that you have other shared interests that they’d much rather discuss. Just because someone is transgender does not mean that they wish to discuss every transgender-related issue that may arise.