The Business Choice to Support Trans Equality: Recommendations for Businesses During Trans Awareness Week 2022

Pride in Our Workplace urges the business community to refocus the conversation on the present need for allyship and protection, calling all businesses to understand their role in the fight against transphobia.

Written by PIOW board members: Katie Martell, Dr. Kiera Penpeci, Cheryl Katon, Bryan Vermes

This week is Trans Awareness Week (November 13th – 19th) – days set aside to call attention to the challenges faced by the transgender community, including disproportional levels of discrimination and violence. 

It culminates in the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th, a day to honor the memory of transgender and gender nonconforming people whose lives were lost in acts of brutality and anti-transgender violence worldwide.

This is also a week in which the nation acknowledges the results of a midterm election, which saw many candidates running on a distinctly anti-trans platform. Across 25 states, millions of dollars were spent on political advertising using scaremongering tactics around transgender issues like gender-affirming care for children to stoke voters. 

Note: Transgender youth are a tiny fraction of children in the US, a subset who already struggle with high rates of homelessness, depression, anxiety and suicide. 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth (Trevor Project).

This year, more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills made their way to state legislatures, including Florida’s “don’t say gay” bill restricting instruction about sexuality or gender identity in schools, and Alabama’s bill making it a felony to provide gender-affirming care to minors. New bills in Tennessee and Texas would make it a crime to perform drag shows in sight of children and classify gender-affirming care for minors as child abuse.

It has become undeniably clear that LGBTQ+ communities, and more specifically trans communities, are systematically targeted for political gain. The misinformation that flows from these efforts is dangerous, and we believe it has implications far beyond the midterms. 

The role of a business in elevating Voices

Each of our organizations influence the communities in which we work and live. A key driver of this influence are the voices we choose to elevate through our offerings, whether it be services, products, entertainment, or other opportunities.

This past weekend, NBC’s Saturday Night Live selected comedian Dave Chappelle to be their featured host – someone whose harmful remarks against the transgender community in a Netflix special last year (the deadliest year on record for transgender and nonbinary people) sparked employee walkouts and a national debate over “cancel culture” and free speech. 

The network’s decision last week garnered controversy. Despite the fact that SNL has its first non-binary cast member and outspoken, queer employees, the network decided to book Chappelle and promote his appearance without comment.  A non-binary SNL writer shared, “transphobia is murder,” on their personal Instagram shortly after Chappelle was announced as host. 

Their remarks harken back to what a transgender Netflix employee said this time last year, “it is not some neutral act” to continue to give transphobic content a platform. GLAAD – an organization looking at media representation for this community, urged Netflix to “condemn hateful content and ‘live up to their own standards’” amid the controversy around Dave Chappelle.

68% of Americans believe they have never met someone who is transgender, learning through media which often mischaracterizes and misrepresents transgender experiences. 

We at PIOW were also surprised to see him given the microphone immediately after a midterm election week in a dangerous and charged political environment – and the evening before THE week meant to bring awareness to the realities faced by trans communities, which struggle for acceptance within a broader culture that lacks trans-affirming narratives. 

“This is a matter of corporate integrity, not about cancelling anyone,” said Cheryl Katon, PIOW Board Member and VP of Resource Development and Donor Engagement at Fenway Health.

“The decision to platform Dave Chappelle during Trans Awareness Week conflicts with the corporate values stated by NBC itself. When a business model is now in conflict with a company’s ethics, the question becomes how to reconcile that.

One thing I love about being LGBTQ is that it forces us to exercise the muscle of self-reflection, all of the time. This decision by NBC shows a lack of that self-reflection. It doesn’t help anyone learn or grow, and it perpetuates the problems.

I’d be more interested in learning about NBC’s real corporate journey to make the workplace a positive, affirming experience for all employees. So many organizations are on that journey, and while we have made enormous strides compared to 30-40 years ago, we need more than policy and benign statements. We need to see allyship in practice.” Cheryl Katon

What is the impact of giving hate a platform? 

SNL’s support of Chappelle not only fails to condemn hate speech, but it reflects the gravity of the outcomes that highly visible and therefore powerful institutions hold. It’s disappointing to think about the expansiveness of their influence on inclusion that has not been leveraged.   

Responding to a news cycle in which Kanye West has been dropped by Adidas for antisemitism, Chappelle’s remarks were criticized and condemned by both Jewish and non-Jewish audience members alike.

The decision to give Chappelle a platform amplifies a self-proclaimed TERF (an anti-trans feminist) during trans awareness week. We at PIOW have been considering the implications of this decision by NBC as a business. 

On behalf of all businesses that turn to PIOW for guidance in how to create a safe and inclusive workplace for LGBTQ+ employees, now is the time to contemplate the responsibility of our organizations and the extent to which we hold them accountable. 

When a public figure is repeatedly given a platform where he can spread anti-trans rhetoric under the guise of comedy, it mocks individuals who are not only a minority voice in our culture, but ones that are disenfranchised and targeted in a national conversation over whether or not their identities are valid, or should be taken seriously.

In an age of such clear anti-trans political messaging and a rise in violent domestic extremism, any anti-trans narrative validates the anger and misguided hate from these groups. Netflix’s own documentary, Disclosure, exposes the direct harm of these narratives which dehumanize and objectify individuals. 

Consider our leaders of tomorrow.

Research from GLSEN and the Trevor Project find 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth. LGBTQ youth who had access to spaces that affirmed their sexual orientation and gender identity reported lower rates of attempting suicide than those who did not. 

Learn more about the systemic barriers faced by LGBTQ young professionals.

This is not “just a political issue” that businesses can safely ignore. These are human rights, values and calls for basic decency and respect that are being weaponized as a cultural hot button issue. Transgender people are our employees, colleagues, and managers. 

The gravity of questioning their rights and freedoms cannot be turned off, or left at home. Consider colleagues with transgender family members who are now at risk of criminalization for providing healthcare, that have to navigate HR policies that will protect their families, or who must consider moving to another company (seeking culture/benefits) or office (for its location) that will provide the resources they need for their families. 

Taking action as a business

In this light, the team at Pride in Our Workplace recommends all businesses ask four questions:

  1. 1. Does our workplace echo the devision we see? Or foster acceptance?
    • 46% of LGBTQ+ workers say they are closeted at work. 53% hear jokes about this community on a regular basis. (HRC)
  2. 2. Does our culture support the shameful marginalization of transgender individuals? Or demonstrate inclusion and support?
    • Have you communicated to employees, clients, and external stakeholders that your company has a zero-tolerance policy for transphobic jokes, language, and harassment? (See more tips.)  Do you maintain those standards?
  3. 3. Where do we stand in the fight for equality?
    • One that presents us with two choices – allyship, or perpetuating hate. Some businesses have come out in direct support of the transgender community in light of our current environment. Read one example blog post from a digital consulting firm detailing their support in both practice and policy.
  4. 4. Are we allies?
    • Allied businesses would condemn this transphobia, not give it a platform, thereby normalizing ideas that dehumanize a population that is under attack. They would find ways to amplify messages of support, especially in moments of crisis. They would create a safe haven for stakeholders who identify with the community, or are otherwise impacted.

All of us at PIOW believe those with a platform of influence have a responsibility to understand their impact.

We believe in a world where businesses can thrive, while supporting their customers, employees, and all stakeholders who are part of (and allies to) the LGBTQ+ community. 

With a clear understanding that there are two sides to this conversation – one seeking to limit the fundamental rights of humans to exist freely, the other seeking to hold up standards of respect, dignity, and equality – what side will your organization choose? 

On November 19, following the publication of this article, a mass shooting occurred at the LGBTQ+ venue Club Q in Colorado Springs. This tragic event underscores the very real danger that our community faces and the urgency with which call on those in power to stop to the perpetuation anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. Find our full response to Club Q and community resources here.

Join PIOW in our efforts to drive positive change in the workplace.

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