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Monday, April 21, 2008

HRC issues second edition of "Transgender Inclusion in the Workplace"

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation has released the second edition of its manual on "Transgender Inclusion in the Workplace." Many transgender advocates, including myself, have deep reservations about HRC because of its controversial stance on inclusion of "gender identity" in ENDA. Nonetheless, these reservations do not change the fact that many employers will likely be looking to this document to address transgender inclusion issues, and it deserves comment. I also have a great deal of respect personally for Samir Luther, who is the author of the report, and I believe there is some significance to the fact that the report comes from the HRC Foundation, an educational foundation separate from the political lobbying organization known as the Human Rights Campaign. But whatever the significance of all that, my initial read-through suggests that this second edition is head and shoulders above the previous effort. I'm also happy the inartful double-entendre subtitle, "A Tool For Managers", has been removed.

This document is far more comprehensive, and more willing to delve into the specifics of transgender issues. When I reviewed the first edition, my criticism focused on its vague generality. This problem has been largely rectified. The original document was 27 pages long, whereas the current version is 41 pages long. Even the definitions on page 2 are more comprehensive than those in the first edition. It's also important that there is a discussion of non-transitioning transgender employees, although there probably should be more about how to accommodate these employees. (There may have been a political decision on this to avoid this controversy.) I particularly liked the discussion of "gender transition guidelines" on page 26 (wink wink), short though it was, but much more important is the discussion of restroom and locker room access on page 33. Rather than two short paragraphs for this all-consuming issue, as in the original version, there is a two page discussion with specific suggestions for how to make reasonable restroom access available. I particularly like the suggestion that coworkers uncomfortable with a transgender employee's use of the same restroom may use separate restroom facilities, the specifics regarding locker rooms and the specific reference to the OSHA standards for restroom access.

This document is a usable guide with implementable solutions, as opposed to a general rough draft of some basic good ideas about how to tolerate transgender employees. I like the specifics about how to go about making health insurance coverage changes on page 36. A lot of people have come to me because they understood how to implement policy changes in the corporate boardroom and in the HR suite, but not at the insurance company level. As a former insurance coverage attorney, this holds no surprises for me, but it is a mystery to many even in the benefits department. However, I must admit I was surprised to read about IBM bringing Dr. Marci Bowers in-network (p. 40). It never ceases to amaze me: as much as I know about this area, there are so many things I don't know. I was heartened to read about this, and it is important information, for it blazes a trail for those to come who are mystified about how to make transgender health benefits a reality.

One of the things I would like to see more of in the future is a discussion of the privacy issue on page 29. This version is more accurate about the effects of HIPAA, and correctly tags state privacy laws as fundamental to the issue, but I would like to see future versions give a bit more discussion about the types of questions that one should not ask, such as "can you give us an affidavit from your doctor swearing that you have had bottom surgery." (I've seen this type of intrusive questioning.)

Of course, I must roll my eyes at the the coy discussion of federal law on page 12, which drily recites the fact that ENDA, introduced as HR 2015 "would add gender identity to existing non-dscrimination law," but that "a version of the bill with just sexual orientation, HR 3685, was passed in November 2007 by the US House of Representatives." I suppose they had to say something.

I note that I am mentioned three times in the text of this document. For the record, I did not know that I would be mentioned, and I was not consulted regarding these mentions. However, I don't object, as my goal in doing research in the area of transgender workplace diversity is to help transgender people by whatever means possible. I only pray that HRC and the wise politicians who lead our country begin to open their eyes to the fact that the fairness and equality message of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act cannot be premised on unfairness and inequality.

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