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Transgender Inclusion in the Workplace: A Matter of Ethics

LGBT Workplace Discrimination Protections Should Extend to Transgender Individuals

Workplace discrimination is wrong in any form whether based on age, sex, or sexual orientation. The law has not caught up with the rights of transgender individuals but the spirit of the law should protect trans people in the workplace. The workplace has to be a welcoming environment for all to create an ethical organization environment.

An important voice for transgender rights is Vanessa Sheridan, author of 'The Complete Guide to Transgender in the Workplace'. Sheridan notes that “transgender inclusion in the workplace has quietly become a phenomenon of global proportions. In the year 2000, there were three Fortune 500 companies that included gender identity in their employee nondiscrimination policies. Today, over half of Fortune 500 have implemented such policies. More major corporations are lining up to join them on an almost daily basis.”

Why is this occurring now? No doubt the landmark opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26, 2015, that established same-sex couples can marry nationwide, is a major cause of the changing societal ethic on the rights of the LGB community. The Court established a new civil right and handed gay rights advocates an historic victory.

In the 5-4 ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. About 46 years ago, after a riot at New York's Stonewall Inn ushered in the modern gay rights movement, the decision could settle one of the major civil rights fights of this era. The language of Kennedy's opinion spoke eloquently of the most fundamental values of family, love and liberty.

"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family," Kennedy wrote. "In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were."

Many have fought to stop gays and lesbians from marrying and having their union recognized as such by the states. Traditional views are that marriage is between one man and one woman. However, the fact is cultural norms change over time and society should recognize it. Just think back to August 6, 1965 when LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act. What about September 22, 1863 when Abraham Lincoln's signed the Emancipation Proclamation? We know that a segment of society fought vehemently against these historic movements. Our societal ethic has to evolve over time to maintain our vibrancy as a nation.

My point is diversity and inclusion is something to celebrate not resist. It’s part of what makes America exceptional – that we can make such historic changes without the Republic crumbling. How many other countries could say the same?

As far as the workplace is concerned, who can deny that businesses are better off now that women play such a prominent role or racial and ethnic minorities have been integrated into the workplace. The same has occurred and will continue to occur as members of the LGBT community are included as equal members of the organization.

Sheridan points out that “a number of factors are combining to increasingly position transgender workers as full and equal members of organizational cultures.” The Internet has been a driving voice for change and enables “the transgender community to identify and communicate with each other as never before.” Moreover, advocacy groups have been hard at work to change the culture and play a major outreach role.

The National Center for Transgender Equality is the nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization for transgender people. NCTE was founded in 2003 by transgender activists who recognized the urgent need for policy change to advance transgender equality. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) works to educate the public on issues that transgender people face and to advocate for full inclusion and equality.

According to Diego Sanchez, Director of Policy for PFLAG National, a national advocacy group, “most employers wouldn't knowingly create a hostile work environment for the employees in whom they have invested time and training. Inclusive policies help a company retain valuable employees”. Indeed, human resource policies on a nationwide basis have been evolving over the years to be more inclusive. Hopefully, the challenges of opening up the workplace to the LGBT community, and trans people in particular who now face the greatest hurdles, will continue and make the workplace a stronger force for good.

We can learn much about the struggles of others. Those of us who haven’t had to deal with overt and covert resistance to our identities, social media harassment, and other forms of discrimination should come together to support trans people and all minorities in these challenging times. It really doesn’t matter what your sexual preference is. For me the most important factor in judging a person is how ‘good’ they are. Do they treat others fairly as required by The Golden Rule? Do they lend a helping hand to those in need? Do they live their life according to the time-honored values of love, caring and compassion, kindness and empathy?

Martin Luther King said it best in his “I Have a Dream’ speech. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, addressing more than 250,000 civil rights supporters who had gathered in 1963 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Dr. King said:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. 

Character counts. Character defines who we are, not our national heritage, racial or sexual identities. The workplace is a better place when it is inclusive and reflective of our diversity.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on March 24, 2016. Professor Mintz is on the faculty of the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at: