Saturday, May 16, 2009

Request for personal stories

In Massachusetts, there is legal protection for gay and lesbian people from being fired for reason of their sexual orientation. I was just asked by a respected associate to get involved in supporting Massachusetts legislation that would expand that protection to protect people from being fired for gender identity or gender expression. She notes, currently, "a person can be fired because they are transgendered (identity) or because they do not express their gender in a way that is pleasing to their employer (gender expression). " The bill would also expand the definition of hate crime to include if a person is physically attacked, beaten or killed because they are transgendered.

I have been strongly supportive of civil rights in the arena of GLBT rights, but it is a sign of my ignorance that I was not aware of this particular problem or how widespread it might be. As I evaluate how involved I want to get in this issue (yes, like others, CEOs have to decide where to put their political efforts among lots of worthwhile causes), it would be helpful to me if readers out there would submit stories of any experiences they might have had in Massachusetts that suggest how necessary this law is.


Anonymous said...

How will possible degrees of "gender expression" that would be protected affect your clients/patients? Some forms of gender expression could make some patients uncomoortable.

I can imagine cases where behaviors that would not be acceptable under normal circumstances might be asserted to be "protected" if by a person representing himself/herself to be "transgender" person.

The culture pretty well accepts female nurses caring for male patients. I suspect that some female patients might be uncomfortable receiving "personal care" from a biological male who was expressing as a female but was at some point revealed as a male. Perhaps your expereinces with male nusrsing staff and assistants would indicate the issues that might arise.

the man from Utz said...

It would be good to refer to the science on this matter. Gender is not as fixed as we like to think. One answer to the previous comment is that to term the care giver "biologically male" is incorrect.

The issue of transgendered people is that there is not the correspondence between their physical and their psychological selves that many people enjoy, so the determination of gender as either male or female can not be established as empirically as the term "biologically male" would indicate. many of the factors involved are in fact biological, having to do not only with body chemistry but in some cases anatomical structures.

The interpersonal and social problems in the context of caregiving are great, but that question has confronted every attempt to create justice. How long ago was it that someone would ask what the reaction of a white patient would be to the attentions of a black doctor?

Anonymous said...

The bill would also expand the definition of hate crime to include if a person is physically attacked, beaten or killed because they are transgendered.

...isn't it a hate crime if someone is attacked, beaten or killed regardless of gender status?
Personally, I think it's a little over the top.

Bernz said...

I have always been a computer geek, so the companies I worked for have always been on the good edge of progressive.

We had a systems engineer who identified as transgender (2001). He elected to go through the change officially, though he had been identifying for quite some time. Through our HR department, we were made aware of this "official" change, just as we would be made aware of an employee who just had some other life-changing thing happen. His manager (me) was told he would start using the women's bathroom and start using his new name, as well as he would be starting horomone therapy. Apparently the HR dept also told the women he'd interact with. We were told what this would be like and what we should expect. No judgements were made; just information given.

Honestly, it was an easy transition for everyone involved.

I have no idea what the legal obligation of our company was or whether it was just our company "doing the right thing", but by the end of it, our employee went through the full transition and was legally recognized completely as a female.

From my perspective, and as his/her manager, I felt, "well yeah, of course you support it." We DID have to make a stand and draw some lines in the sand for the sake of paperwork. Things like, "okay, for this form you're male and then as of this date, you're female." but no one seemed to mind the extra paperwork involved.

This was in MA, by the way.

Zoe Brain said...

I've seen the results first hand.

When I was in Thailand, a women came in from Boston. The day before her surgery, I witnessed her being notified over the phone that her employment was being terminated, effective immediately, for being transsexual.

She'd spent all her money on the surgery, and couldn't afford a legal fight, especially since they were quite explicit as to the reason. They made no attempt at pretence, as that could have landed them in legal trouble.

This saved them 6 weeks of accumulated sick leave, plus months of annual leave, and solved the problem of how to deal with a TS employee. She'd been presenting as female at work for the previous year, as is required by the medical "Standards of Care".

The clinic's staff and other patients spent a lot of time post-operatively dealing with her situational depression. With the lack of hormones (you have to go off them two weeks before surgery) and the long-lasting effects of the anaesthetic needed for 7 hours of surgery, she was actually coping rather well, considering she was financially ruined, and would be homeless and still recovering from major surgery in a few weeks.

When she got on the plane - I travelled with her on the clinic's bus to the airport to give emotional support - she'd managed to land a few job interviews. But had to travel in a wheelchair, the surgery of that surgeon is world class, but more extensive than most, with a longer recovery period needed.

A very, very brave lady.

Anonymous said...

This law would not only protect people who transition from one sex to another (e.g. male to female or female to male). It would also protect me, as a person assigned female at birth who is just not very feminine.

I've had situations where I've been "spoken to" by people higher up than I am in the chain of command about the fact that I don't wear make-up or heels. They have flat-out told me that they know that I'm dressing up appropriately (I usually wear a suit and loafers in professional situation), but that I "look strange" as a female without makeup or heels. I think it's also related to the fact that I have other androgynous characteristics like my wide-shouldered build and haircut. In any case, this law would protect people like me - I would have a legal leg to stand on and to say, no, I don't have to change who I am. Part of my gender identity is being fairly masculine/androgynous, even though I am not someone who is transitioning medically to become male. I want a legal leg to stand on so I can say no, I don't have to wear makeup unless you make every employee, including the men, do it.

It seems perfectly fair to me.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of stories already online, and a few minutes with google should present plenty of evidence of the need.

I myself am a highly credentialed and creative technical professional who saw my career tank following my transition. From non-hiring to workplace chill, I've seen a gross change in my working relationships. I'm now disabled by an accident that occurred while I was unemployed through no fault of my own, and so had no medical insurance. I get by on social security now, quite a downfall from the lucrative technical career I once enjoyed. The freeze that chilled my creative juices was as effective as any firing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your interest in this issue. Transgendered people need their employers behind them as much as any other segment of the population that is routinely discriminated against. The experience I will recount did not take place in Massachusetts, but I feel very safe in saying that there is not a state in the Union where the kinds of things that people are describing to you do not happen to gender-variant people as a matter of course.

Not too long after my transition from female to male, I lost an employment opportunity when I entered my prior name onto a background check form. The day before I came in to fill it out, I had been told when and where to report and the day after, my phone calls were going unanswered. After a few days of my leaving messages, I was finally given a return call and a reason: My would-be boss had "too much on [her] plate."

I was passing well at the time. I think if anything different had been noticed about me, I would have been given the cold shoulder earlier in the process. I was not planning on being out at work, so when I put my previous female name on that form, I just wanted to know if that employer would have supported me, had a problem arisen. Of course, I also wanted it known that I had a clean record, but the issue of being "discovered" complicated the background check procedure for me, and it still does.

Since that experience, I've been been told by a lawyer that specializes in transgender issues that a legal argument exists for leaving one's previous name off of a background check form when you are transgender. I would prefer that I didn't feel the need to protect myself from potential employers' prejudices and insecurities (of not being able to handle transgender workers--which I think happened in this case), especially when a choice has to be made between their right to know and my right to be treated fairly. But now I do, and it is not a simple choice to make.

I think what can help rectify this kind of situation and others that people are describing to you is to not only support state legislation that protects transgender people, but to make sure HR personnel in your hospital know how to deal with issues around gender identity and expression. There are excellent trainings and publications available that can be found through web searches and networking. I encourage you to keep learning and to act on your convictions.

Thanks again for asking the question.

Anonymous said...

Life is very harsh on transgenders. I know it because I'm am one. Being a transgender is not a choice--I've tried to fit in the "gender norm" unsuccessfully. I was unable to find a job for a while, and I have been under-employed for a long time, even though I am a proven hard-worker and have a college degree from a good school. I consider myself to be among the few lucky transgenders who have a job. I hope this law would start bringing the transgender issue to light and helping to give transgenders equal legal protection.

Hugh Tauerner said...

I'm transgendered (FTM). I work for a community hospital on the South Shore, as a database admin.

I transitioned on the job, and my employer's HR dept. told me that there would be no problem with this (and there wasn't). They did say that had I been transitioning (in either direction) and working OB/Gyn then they would have wanted to transfer me to a different dept. so as not to cause "discomfort" to any of the patients. Which seems fair enough to me.

I have also been a patient at BI -- twice -- for knee replacement surgery. I have always been treated very well by your staff. I did get the opportunity to do the "Transgender 101" talk with some of the nurses who were caring for me. But they were courteous with their questions, so it was a pleasant piece of education and outreach.

I've been lucky, and not suffered from much in the way of discrimination or prejudice, except in my health insurance. HPHC specifically excludes *all* trangender-related procedures and medications. I have not been able to ascertain why as yet. nor convince my employer to remove this exception.

Bernz said...

I read all of these stories that people left behind and I am alittle saddened by it. My experience with transgendered employees was nothing less than positive. The person was a valuable employee, certainly, and as she went through her transition, I don't think anyone treated it any differently than someone being pregnant or some other "normal, but life changing" experience.

People asked questions, but we fostered openness in just about everything we did and figured that even if they were awkward questions, at least everything was on the table. In retrospect, larger work environments might have to be more mindful of regulations and privacy, but we were a small group of about 100 and she wanted it to be open, so we were.

I think much of the ease was due to education from our HR folks and just the culture of, "I don't care what you look like or what you do at home, so long as you know how to compile your own kernel and bring in cupcakes when it's your turn" that was (and is) pervasive in our workspace.

I'm not sure how much of the transition was covered by insurance. I'm pretty sure the hormone therapy and psych stuff was covered. Not sure about the actual transition.

I hope legal protection comes soon. MA, as always, will be ahead of this curve. One of the reasons I live here.

Zoe Brain said...

You might find this video playlist instructional.

It's the 26 June 2008 HELP Subcommittee hearing, "An Examination of Discrimination Against Transgender Americans in the Workplace"

Anonymous said...

As a Gay employee of BIDMC I continue to be troubled by the discrimination that is allowed in payroll. Although I am legally married in Massachusetts, unlike my heterosexual married co workers my spouse continues to be listed as “Domestic Partner”
The answer from payroll is that the system (PeopleSoft) that the hospital purchases can not accommodate same sex married couples. Another answer we get is, “we should wait until more states legalize equal marriage” Why does the hospital “The customer”, continue to put money into a system that discriminates against a segment of its employees? Apparently it is not an issue for the senior leadership at BIDMC. Perhaps it will be when E.N.D.A. is passed? I do acknowledge the support from you Paul to the LGBT community but wonder if you know about the lack of support we get from some of the senior leadership on issues like this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I just heard from our HR people: We will make a change that will indicate either domestic partner or MA spouse on the benefits portal and on the paychecks. We have to put spouses in Massachusetts together with domestic partners because of the federal and state disparities in tax regulations.