LGBT+ Visibility in the Workplace

Written by: Kimberlee Model, posted: 2021-07-03. Tags: Identity and Politics, Transgender.

This past month was Pride Month for those of us in the LGBT+ community. For me, although I am both transgender and bisexual, I usually avoid overt displays of this identity in the workplace. I typically pass as if I were cis gender, so avoiding this in the workplace is easy for me. This year, I decided to take a different approach, because the LTBT+ community, and especially transgender community, have become somewhat of a punching bag for "right-wing frustrations".

Most of the time I avoid displaying any of my queer identity at work. Not to say that I conceal the subject, in fact I consider myself fairly open to discuss it. However, at the same time, nobody ever asks me about it. Part of this is perhaps the distance of being a remote employee, part of it is that it doesn't come up frequently.

This year, part way through pride-month, I decided to take a different approach, after reading this article highlighting corporations which use pride themed branding, while donating to campaigns of politicians who have sponsored bills restricting the rights of transgender individuals. What struck me was some of the lengths these politicians have gone in restricting the rights of transgender individuals. Beyond the now popular "ban-trans-women-in-sports" initiatives, there have been even more efforts to curtail our restroom usage, to criminalize some of the medically necessary interventions for both transgender men and women, and more, although further summary is not why I am writing today.

Reading of these efforts, I decided to change my own visibility in the workplace. While visibility is not always the right solution, I think in this case it helps. As a transgender woman, who happens to also be a competent and professional engineer, I wanted to send the message that there is more to transgender individuals than transitioning. Not that I believe that one woman at a small business will change too many opinions, especially since I don't beieve any of my colleagues are the type to hold biases against trans people. But I think I feel better myself about it.

As a remote worker, it wasn't clear what I should do to change be more visible. I opted to change the avatar/profile-pic (normally a picture of my family's dog Quigley, who passed away last year), simply adding the pink and blue stripes of the transgender pride flag. I figure it is the rough equivalent of wearing a t-shirt with the pride flag.

When I changed my avatar two things I was thinking about were if anyone would ask about it, and how many of my colleagues had known I was transgender before this. On the first question, nobody has asked yet, although I did consider this sort of an invitation if anyone were curious. On the latter is somewhat more interesting, and something I don't actually have an answer about. I know I have discussed it with at least one person, and I did get support from my boss before hand, but I don't know beyond that. I remember, as I'm sure many transgender people do, coming out at work the first time being a big deal. At the time, it was a huge change. Today, it feels like a far less relevant change. Every now and again, queer folks talk about "always having to come out", in that new people rarely recognize queer people as such, except perhaps butch lesbians and transgender people early in their transition.

In another of my prior jobs, after transitioning, I actively concealed my queer identity from my colleagues (other than HR and Security of course). I knew that there was a not-insignificant chance that I could face retaliation just for coming out. Although it is difficult to think about one issue during this time period in isolation, I was always fearful that someone might find out. Now, I find myself more comfortable with more of my queer identity "out there", because I know that conflict will not arise from inadvertent disclosure.