November 20th marks the 19th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, a celebration to honor the memory of trans individuals who have lost their lives to prejudice and hatred.
In the spirit of that reflection, a conversation about transgender discrimination in our country — particularly within the workplace — is an important one to have.
Despite a greater social acceptance toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) individuals, federal employment protections for LGBT individuals still do not exist in the United States.
Because of this, it is largely up to state and local governments to take protective action for LGBT individuals, yet many continue to allow legal workplace discrimination under the guise of religious or moral objection.
This, paired with the current rhetoric of President Trump who seeks to legally define gender as irrefutably male or female, perpetuates the belief that transgender individuals are unworthy of the same protections as their cisgendered colleagues.
In response to all of this, George B. Cunningham, a sports management professor and researcher for diversity and inclusion at Texas A&M University, wrote an article assessing transgender rights in the workplace.
He argues that while major progress has been made in our country in recent years, there is still a long way to go to reach full inclusion and equality for transgender Americans in the workforce.
Progress in major companies
Cunningham explains that various national indicators, including the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, point to significant improvements in access, treatments and opportunities for transgender people.
The index offers an annual examination of policies and benefits given to LGBT individuals in Fortune 500 companies, and found that in 2002, only 3 percent of companies had nondiscrimination policies based on gender identity.
That figure rose significantly in the 2018 report, which showed that 83 percent of Fortune 500 companies now have nondiscrimination policies. The same report also shows that most Fortune 500 companies now include transgender medical benefits, which didn’t even exist in 2002.
Furthermore, the United States has seen an increase in major corporations and their CEOs who oppose policies that discriminate against transgender individuals.
For instance, corporations like Coca-Cola, Apple, JP Morgan Chase and others have quickly acknowledged their opposition to discriminatory remarks made by President Trump.
Cunningham also points out that most Americans value inclusiveness, and would sooner stand by a company that values LGBT inclusion over one that does not.
Problems that remain
Despite progress made within major corporations, Cunningham explains that massive hurdles still stand in the way of transgender individuals.
Among these include a high rate of unemployment, a severe wage gap and discriminatory remarks within the workplace environment.
In 2011, one in seven transgender people earned $10,000 or less a year, and the unemployment rate for trans people of color was four times the U.S. national average.
According to the Movement Advancement Project, an organization that promotes equality for all, 48 percent of LGBT individuals live in states that lack employment protections based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Additionally, Cunningham points out that the current rhetoric of the president can lead to harmful views of transgender individuals.
“Words matter, no matter who states them. So, yes, the statements from the president are harmful,” said Cunningham.
“There are data to show this. A study of suicide hotlines showed a spike in calls from LGBT youth when the president tweeted about barring transgender individuals in the military.
“The discussion of barring people from service, restricting their restroom usage, limiting the definition of gender, or other related conversations sends the signal the transgender people are abnormal, wrong and harmful. The discussions are not based on data or facts, but instead are steeped in antiquated stereotypes and falsehoods. Nevertheless, it is easy to internalize these messages, especially when someone like the president perpetuates them.”
How to improve
Cunningham suggests that in order for workplace discrimination to end, there will need to be stronger legal protections for LGBT individuals, as well as advocacy from organizational leaders and support from fellow co-workers.
He suggests that anti-discrimination policies eliminate bias in employment decision-making, while organizational leaders promote an inclusive culture and support from co-workers provides a welcoming environment for LGBT individuals.
“At the individual level, it is important to educate yourself, speak up and advocate. Many universities will have training for people who are looking to be an LGBT ally, so seek those out,” said Cunningham.
“Being an effective ally means speaking up in some instances, listening in others, and walking side-by-side with our LGBT sisters and brothers in other cases. The important thing is to be active.”
Cunningham plans to move forward with researching transgender inclusion, and feels hopeful that transgender equality will continue to improve.
“We have seen positive trends in attitudinal data related to transgender individuals over time,” he said.
“Though the positivity does not increase as much as it does for other groups, there are increases.”
Additionally, Cunningham believes that more and more companies will begin barring gender-based discrimination and offer transgender-related health benefits.
Natalie Colarossi is a journalism major and global studies minor working toward her bachelor’s degree at Ohio University. She is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has covered a number of topics including art, culture, politics, music, and travel. Her greatest passion and priority is to travel, and she hopes to experience as many places and cultures as possible.