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This is not legal advice, which can only be given by an attorney admitted to practice law in your jurisdiction after hearing all of the facts and circumstances in a particular case.

Friday, September 8, 2006

Letter from transgender employee in transition to co-workers

Before I was interrupted by a flurry of interesting news during the past few weeks, we were discussing gender transition policy tools. This post discusses the crafting of a letter to co-workers from a transgender employee in transition. In my last post on the subject of policy tools, I discussed a draft agenda for meeting with co-workers of a transgender employee. As noted there, the meeting should be carefully thought out to insure that co-workers learn what management expects of them. A useful addition to the meeting is a letter from the transgender employee in transition. As discussed in previous posts, it is best that the transgender employee be absent from this meeting.

A letter from the transgender employee is useful for co-workers, who may wonder what the transgender employee is thinking or feeling. It also allows a voice to the employee in transition. I have seen (and written) a number of these letters, and the chief complaint I have with the first draft is that they are too long and give too much information about unimportant and distracting personal details. I think it's important that the letter be reviewed by the GTL (the person in charge of ensuring successful gender transition, usually someone in HR) to ensure that there are no typographical errors or other content distracting to the intent of the letter.

The letter should be short, introduce the employee's new name, state his/her commitment to good working environment, and if desired, include a short personal message about his/her transition. A model of an employee letter is provided below. The content of the letter should be changed as appropriate to fit the particular situation and the writer's individual style.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I must share some news about a major personal decision that will affect my appearance at work. In consultation with management, it is now appropriate to discuss this matter in more detail.

My doctors have diagnosed me with gender dysphoria, a medical condition in which psychological gender is not in alignment with biological sex. For many, this condition ultimately results in sex reassignment.

During the past few years, I have worked intensively with a therapist having expertise in gender issues. I have finally come to understand the need for a final answer. With this revelation, a weight was lifted from my shoulders. After much consideration, I now know what I must do to make my life whole. Though this was a difficult decision, I have decided to begin living my life as a man/woman.

My name has been changed legally to ___________. Additionally, on or about __________________, I will be on medical leave. Upon my return I will begin living my life fully as (new name). I will not look very much different than I do now, other than some different clothes. For some of you, this may be difficult to understand or accept. I do not ask that you change your personal opinion. I only ask that you continue to accept me as a valued member of the workplace. It is my hope that this process will be completed with the least amount of disruption to the workplace.

I look forward to maintaining the high performance standards our company has upheld. In fact, having this issue behind me, I will be more at peace. It is my expectation that I will maintain the good working relationships that I currently have with you all. Some of you might feel apprehensive initially, but please remember that I am still the same person that you have always known.

Thank all of you for your consideration, patience and understanding.

Sincerely,

I note that this letter is not appropriate to send out in the absence of a meeting, because it is designed to fit into a comprehensive discussion that provides background detail necessary to co-worker understanding. I generally advise corporate clients to avoid sending such information via email, as it is not only impersonal and likely to contribute to misunderstanding, but is also too easily distributed outside the zone of confidentiality.

P.S. The Out and Equal Workplace Summit is coming up next weekend in Chicago, and I encourage you to check it out. I'm presenting on Thursday at 3:30 - stop by and say hello if you're around.

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