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This episode was originally recorded as an Advocacy in Action conversation and features MPJI Advisory Board Chair, J Mase III, and JBC VP Adrienne Lawrence. Tune in to hear about the uplifting meaningful contributions made by members of the Black queer community, efforts that impede greater inclusion in workplaces across the country, and effective tools you can use to achieve inclusivity in your organization.
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
J MASE III: If you’ve had an opportunity to quarantine, and if you’ve been feeling some of the emotional damage of being isolated from people, I want you to know that lots of black trans people have had to be isolated well before quarantine started, right. That for many of us to walk down the street, I remember having a conversation with my mother on the phone, just even a few years ago, I’m trying to have a very chill conversation with her going to work, and someone on the street stops in front of me and is screaming at me in my face and saying, “What are you, a man or a woman?” And my mother is asking me, “Are you okay? What’s going on?,” things like that. And I was like, “Oh, everything is fine.” And in that moment, I had to be very calm to deescalate a situation. I had to know more than the person trying to harass me, how to deescalate a situation.
How do you think that impacted me when I got to work that day? How do you think I was able to be present in my workspace? Or how often do we have to normalize being treated unwell and acting like the day is okay when it’s not?
DOUG FORESTA: The Will to Change is hosted by Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur, a dynamic speaker, bestselling author, and leadership expert on how organizations must evolve their cultures towards the new, more inclusive workplace reality. She’s a passionate inclusion and equity advocate, committed to helping leaders foster healthier and therefore more productive workplaces, ultimately driving innovation and business results. Informed by nearly two decades of consulting to Fortune 500 companies, she and her team advise top companies on building cultures of belonging in times of great upheaval and uncertainty. And now, onto the episode.
Hello, and welcome back to The Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta. Today’s episode was originally recorded as an advocacy and action conversation, and was done in partnership between Jennifer Brown Consulting and the Marsha P. Johnson Institute in honoring Black History Month. And in this candid, enlightening conversation, JBC Vice President Adrian Lawrence, who you’ll recall from previous episodes, was joined by Marsha P. Johnson Institute advisory board chair J Mase III, as they discuss meaningful contributions made by members of the black queer community, as well as addressing efforts that impede greater inclusion in workplaces across the country. They also discussed effective tools you can use to achieve inclusivity in your organization. The original recording is interactive, so you’ll hear some of that. And now, onto the conversation.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: All right, we have a lot of very interesting, engaging and insightful information to share with you in this wonderful conversation, so we are going to go ahead and get started. Welcome to Jennifer Brown Consulting’s February 2020 edition of Advocacy in Action. I am Adrienne Lawrence, Vice President at JBC, and this is going to be a one hour conversation that is being recorded. Also, we’re going to have time at the conclusion of our conversation, largely for Q&A session, so I think that will be a good opportunity for many of you to get some additional insight and any questions you may have. Also, please bear in mind that there is a link in the chat where you can submit your questions to the Q&A.
Let’s go ahead and get started here. As we honor Black History Month, Jennifer Brown Consulting is very pleased to be joined in spotlighting the intersection of black and transgender identity. And to that end, we have partnered with Marsha P. Johnson Institute for this Advocacy in Action. And on behalf of the organization, we are joined by their advisory board chair and a co-editor of the Black Trans Prayer Book. That’s also become organization. And that is J Mase III. Thanks so much for joining us, J Mase. We really appreciate having here.
J MASE III: No, thank you for having me. I’m excited. I’m excited. I see people from all these different lovely places. I see some people from Philly. I just want to say I’m extra happy about that. That is where I am from in the world, even though I’m currently in the magical land of Seattle, Washington, Duwamish land. If we can go straight ahead, I’ll go right into our first piece.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Well, let me go ahead and ask you, if you wouldn’t mind, just because there might be people out there who aren’t necessarily familiar with the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, and so if you wouldn’t mind sharing with our participants today, our viewers, essentially a little bit about the organization.
J MASE III: Yeah. To talk about what Marsha P. Johnson Institute, is primarily we are an organization invested in the survival, the thriving, and the lived experiences of black trans people. While many people see the intersections of transness and blackness as being separate, we want to be very clear that we that it is necessary for us to understand trans liberation and racial justice as united fronts, and as again, lived realities for many people in this world, in this life. Marsha P. Johnson, having been an artist, an organizer, a great orator and speaker, and also just someone who’s experienced a life, very similar to many of those of us that are on the ground now, she is an ancestor that I think is very necessary for us to meditate on in this work.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for partnering with us, and to have this conversation. And just because I like to give people a roadmap of what we’re going to be speaking about today, just going over why we’re here.
Again, this is Black History Month, and it’s so incredibly important to recognize the plethora of black voices, and to uplift. And so we are here in part to understand a bit more about black trans history, something that may often get overlooked when we are talking about black history, but is nonetheless, very vital and important to uplifting voices, as well as contributions that have been made to society.
It’s also important today in terms of why we’re here to learn about the black trans experience when it comes to workplaces. As you all know, JBC focuses on making workplaces more inclusive, to ensure everyone feels welcomed, valued, respected, and heard. And that should also include individuals of the black trans identity or the gist of trans identity. These things are important, because we need to also talk about how we’re going to remove barriers to inclusivity. Because the thing is, we all deserve to feel welcomed, valued, respected, and heard.
And because we have a lot of information for you today, and really know you’re going to enjoy the storytelling and the journey J Mase is going to be providing, I will go ahead and turn it over to him for as far as it concerns honoring the ancestors.
J MASE III: Good stuff. Good stuff. I always like to tell people we’re going to go back into our little time machines and we’re going to go way back, a few hundred years, if we can actually move forward on the next slide. We’re going to talk a little bit about an ancestor named Victoria. And so Victoria, we’re going to go back to the 1560s. Victoria was stolen from the land that is currently known as Benin. She was an enslaved African, trans-fem person, who upon being stolen into the land of Belgium, she refused to wear the clothing of her enslavers. She specifically made these garments for herself. This particular image and drawing of her comes out of a book called Decolonizing Gender: A Curriculum, which I think everyone should check out and read.
And when she would craft this clothing for herself, other people from her community that were stolen from the same land that she was would refer to her as words such as, would refer to her as words that translated back into medicine person, healer, spirit worker, all these different things.
And I bring that up because I think it’s important to not one, just locate trans people as being part of this very long legacy, but to also understand that when we talk about transness, especially when we separate it from racialized identities, what we miss is that specifically when it comes to black trans folks. That historically there have been leadership roles within community, that’s led to us specifically being targeted, not just but for being black, but for being at this intersection of gender expansiveness, which meant that we’re often a leader of folks, a leader of people, and a leader and holder of knowledge and history.
And so it is important that anytime we talk about trans issues, that we need to understand that trans antagonism and the ways in which transphobia operates is also a part of the same system that colonization operates with under. And so I’m hoping that makes sense to folks. Let me know in the chat, if that makes sense to you, okay.
And we’re going to go forward to the next slide. And so the next person I want to talk about a little bit is Francis Thompson. I’m hoping that someone in this chat has heard about Francis Thompson. For this one, we’re going to the time of 1866. We’re going to 1866 during the Memphis riots. Francis Thompson, who was a black trans woman at the time, who was living with other black women, largely black cis women at the time, was the first trans person to testify to Congress. And specifically, she was talking about the 1866 Memphis riots. And she was detailing the specifically sexual violence that black women were experiencing at the hands of the KKK and other white supremacist organizations. She was an activist that specifically spoke out a lot about bodily autonomy for black people.
And so I say that again to say in this space that black trans folks have always been organized, as we have always been activists. I always tell people that activism gets used as a label to tell people about who is seen as noble or not. That activism is seen as this very big, noble thing, and it’s really people that are doing the work that is necessarily to do in order for us to survive. Sometimes we don’t always get the opportunity to thrive, unfortunately, but to even just get to the work that allows us to survive. So let me know if you didn’t know about Francis Thompson, or if this is the first time you’ve heard about Francis Thompson. Okay, and we can go forward to the next one. And so a question I want to ask you all is, this is just a thing, right? You could be in the wheelhouse. You don’t have to know exactly. But I want you to think about, in what year was the first anti-trans legislation passed the United States? In what year do you think the first anti-trans legislation was passed in the United States? And I might even give you some options. I might say, let’s say it was 1978. Your other option is 1928. The other option is 1888. The other option is 1878. Okay, so either 1978, 1928, 1978, or 1988. Okay, I’m seeing a lot of guesses. Wherever you are, you’re going to do a little drum roll for me. You’re going to do drum roll exactly where you are.
And the answer is, it was 1878. In 1878 in Ohio, the first anti-trans legislation passes. And does it pass in such a way that says being trans is wrong? No, it doesn’t say that. What it says is that there are people that are lying about their identities. So the first anti-trans legislation that exists in this country is specifically targeting people who are seen as lying about their identities. And anti-trans legislation after it popped up in 1878 in Ohio pops up in lots of different places in the country, to the point that a lot of anti-trans legislation didn’t get repealed in many states until the 2010s.
I think that’s really important for people. And regardless of whether or not that stuff has been repealed, does framing trans people as being liars about their identity for the last couple hundred years, regardless of whether or not it was illegal, or illegal in my state, does that still have an impact today on trans people? Most definitely. And especially on trans people intersections of blackness, where we were already over policed, we were already over targeted by the system. So I think we can’t have a conversation about work without actually also talking about the ways that black trans people get criminalized, oftentimes without having to even say the word trans at all, without having to say the word black at all, but about specifically creating conditions in which our very lives and the ways that we are forced to survive becomes illegal.
And if we can actually go forward to the next slide. That brings me up to this next person of Jim McHarris. Jim McHarris. So Jim McHarris was actually interviewed by Ebony magazine back in the 1960s, I believe he had been arrested in the 1950s. He’s a black trans man.
And so when you read the reports of why Jim McHarris was arrested, what they’ll say is that he was arrested because there was some lighting that was out in his car, that he had a taillight out. But when you read the full story, it sounds a lot like he got pulled over for being black at night and passing through towns.
Jim McHarris was a man that oftentimes had to be on the road. He, as many trans people, and especially as black trans people, was not able to stay in one place. He had to consistently be learning new trades, learning new tasks to make his way, as well as to maintain his safety. And sometimes his safety required not being able to be honest and open about who he was in the world and his fullness, and having to hide that.
When he was pulled over, it was also discovered that he was trans, and he was incarcerated. When he was incarcerated, even when he was going to court, his story got so publicized that it was also no longer safe for him to return back to the place that he came from.
And so for many people thinking about this happening in the 1950s, I want to tell you that for some trans people, and especially again black trans people, this is still the case. That we’re oftentimes not able to be in one place for long periods of time, that we are often pushed out of nine to five work, that we are often pushed into doing different types of survival of work in order to maintain ourselves. And that our outlets or our identities are often sensationalized. I’m hoping that makes sense for y’all. Okay.
Let me know if learning about Jim McHarris is someone who’s new for you. Let me know if learning about Jim McHarris is someone new for you.
And I also really want y’all to sit and think about, what are the ways that we criminalize black trans people, again, like I said, without having to say the word black, without having to say the word trans.
When he was interviewed for Ebony magazine, Jim McHarris said, “I ain’t breaking no laws, and I ain’t done nothing wrong.” And the reality is, again, it’s not that he specifically went out and sought out to do something wrong, but that oftentimes our existences as black trans people is seen against the law, as well as it’s seen against even a lot of the policies that we have in our organizations. There’s lots of different ways that we oftentimes push people out of our organizations without having to name that it’s about their identity.
My goal also is, of whether you’re a cisgender person, a non trans person listening in today, whether or not you are a trans person, I want to make sure everybody learns at least one new thing.
And the next is Pauli Murray. Have you heard about Pauli Murray at least? Have people heard about Pauli Murray? Let me know. Because Thurgood Marshall said Polly Murray wrote the Bible of the Civil Rights Movement. So Thurgood Marshall said that Polly Murray wrote the Bible of Civil Rights Movement, which is this book that’s featured right here, states laws on race and color. So this is many, many moons ago. And so Polly Murray is, or was a non-binary black ancestor who specifically, who did lots of things. Who was a theologian, who was a lawyer, who was a poet, had multiple books out and just a phenomenal human being. Used multiple gender pronouns throughout their lifetime. And I think it’s, again that, I said that Francis Thompson was there from the beginning doing activism. I would say even what Victoria was doing back in the day, refusing the clothes of her enslavers was a type of activism. Polly Murray was at the forefront of political thought when it came to gender and racial justice. So these things again have always been intertwined and interlinked.
And with that, it kind of comes up for me is, I want to kind of go back to this place when we talk a lot about intersectionality and we talk about the ways that our identities kind of come up. And I think of when Kimberly Crenshaw coined this term, so for many of us knowing this history of the term intersectionality from Kimberly Crenshaw’s work in the eighties as legal scholar. And she talks specifically about the ways that black women were targeted at work, not just for their blackness, not just for their womanhood alone, but for being at those intersections. I mentioned that there’s ways that we criminalize black trans people without having to say the word black or trans. If we think about black trans people, and we’ll kind of get into some of the stats before, I’m going to have you in a little bit, really sit and imagine what does some of that criminalization or that exclusion look like? Okay? So just keep percolating that in your head and ask yourself this question, “How do we criminalize these folks who happen to say these things?”
So one thing I want to kind of name is when we talk about the different types of experience especially around LGBTQ community, anytime that we’re talking about homicide in LGBTQ community, anytime we’re talking about discrimination, the people that experience the most discrimination by and large within LGBTQ community as a whole, are overwhelmingly going to be people that again are not just being penalized for their sexuality and gender, but also people that are going to be penalized around their blackness and their race and the ways in which the society specifically traumatizes black bodies. So the stat, 53% of anti LGBTQ homicides are trans women. And what it says under here is that 72% of those are black trans women. So we can’t be talking about violence against LGBTQ people without understanding the ways that intersections of identity, especially as it relates to blackness, to transness and especially womanhood and misogyny, how all those things intersect. We cannot understand how to support black trans people without understanding misogyny, without understanding again, the ways in which we specifically go after trans womanhood.
If we can advance on that slide now. So thank you, Adrian, for being … I know that your typical task is not just doing the slides over here, so I appreciate you doing this while we’re going through this presentation. Okay, so let’s get into the workplace situation. We can move forward on this.
Okay so things for us to know is that trans people are three times more likely to be unemployed. And what I would say is not even just that we’re more likely to be unemployed. I tell people all the time I’ve been a professional speaker and educator and things like that for years. And people always ask me, “Well, Jane Base, how did you get to do this?” I didn’t do it on purpose. I did it because I, like many other black trans people, even though I’m sitting here articulating to you the experiences of black trans people, I am not distanced from the stuff that we’re talking about. I, too, was pushed out of organizations through very common practices of anti-blackness and trans antagonism. We’re often said that we are not a cultural fit.
And what does that look like? It often looks like saying that we are needy when we’re asking for our rights. It often looks like us being asked not to react when we’re actually being faced with stuff that causes trauma to us. We’re often put in situations where we might be physically in danger. I tell people, especially during this time of quarantine, if you’ve had an opportunity to quarantine, and if you’ve been feeling some of the emotional damage of being isolated from people, I want you to know that lots of black trans people have had to be isolated well before quarantine started. That for many of us to walk down the street…
I remember having a conversation with my mother on the phone, just even a few years ago. And I’m trying to have a very chill conversation with her, going to work. And someone on the street stops in front of me and is screaming at me in my face and saying, “What are you, a man or a woman?” And my mother is asking me, “Are you okay? What’s going on?” Things like that. And I was like, “Oh, everything is fine.” And I was asked in that moment I had to be very calm to deescalate a situation. I had to know more than the person trying to harass me how to deescalate a situation. How do you think that impacted me when I got to work that day? How do you think I was able to be present in my workspace? Or how often do we have to normalize being treated unwell and acting like the day is okay when it’s not?
Yes, right? So Jarvis, this is one of the worst with trying to get people to understand. I don’t think many cisgender people really truly understand the amount of ways that some people go out of their way to antagonize trans people on the daily, even in places where we have lots of legal protections. And we can actually go forward with this. So one in three black trans folks in the US makes less than $10,000 a year. one in three black trans folks makes less than $10,000 a year. What do you think that means for again, going back to people’s safety, that in this society, being able to have access to income means that you get to make choices about where you live. You get to make choices about how you circumvent certain situations. You get to make choices about, do you want to stay in this career? Do you want to do something else? Do you want to go back to school? All these different things. So this is not some distant sort of thing. This is what it looks like right now, today, for black trans people.
And so that is not possible to center black trans people without understanding that you’re going to have to also be thinking about people that are not just in your space, but people that are so far removed from your space, that are so distanced from your space, that it wouldn’t even occur to them to come through the door. Or that there’s already practices that you’re doing that wouldn’t make it clear that they shouldn’t come through the door. There’s lots of ways we passively engage in those things. And if we can move forward from here?
And again, as I mentioned, we often get criminalized for survival work. So what does survival work mean? It means that a lot of black trans folks we have to, when we’re pushed out of nine to five work, it means when I talked about Marsha P. Johnson and all the stuff she did, she was also a sex worker, and it’s important for me to name that. She housed young black, brown, and indigenous trans kids who were kicked out of their homes by engaging in sex work, by being an artist, by doing other sort of things outside of nine to five work. That is how she helped people to survive.
Victoria, she helped other people survive by also engaging in what at the time she referred to more as sex magic and sex work things. I think about folks that have to … and sex work is not the only way people exist outside of nine to five work. There’s lots of different ways we do that, but I think it’s really important that we understand that some of these boundaries that we often put on people around criminal records, other sort of things, is not realistic to the types of lives that sometimes we’ve had to engage in, in order to be here for the next day. I’m hoping that makes sense for some people. And even if it doesn’t, I’m hoping that people are willing to move forward to understand how that impacts our actual daily lived experiences. Let me know if you’re still with me, let me know in the chat that you’re still with me. Okay? And as it says under here, one in two black trans people have been incarcerated. One in two black trans people have been incarcerated. So when I’m talking to y’all today, I’m also coming to y’all from a strong black trans community in which a lot of my friends have been houseless, and it seems normal to many people. A lot of friends have been incarcerated and it seems normal to people because our very existence is often criminalized. And if we can move forward here, okay.
Trans employees are more likely to view their gender or sexual orientation as a barrier. And so I would even expand on this, that it’s not our gender that’s a barrier, it’s other people’s inability to be with us and to understand that even sometimes explanation, when you’re coming from a community where, like I said is normal for me to talk to people about their houselessness. It’s not often normal for me to be in spaces where I can talk openly about those things in workplaces or talking about what I actually need or talking about my survival, talking about my history. That we often have to shy away from so many different parts of ourselves in order to be taken seriously. And so what does that do when we have to lie? And I know it’s normal to hold some of yourself back in workspaces and there is a huge pro we’re not able to even talk about the very bare minimum of our actual lives and realities.
And if we can move forward, okay. 90% of trans employees report experiencing harassment. And I want to say with this, a lot of cisgender people have a low bar for how they feel like trans people should be treated. That for a lot of cisgender people, the number one question I get from cisgender people is, “How do I deal with new pronouns?” That’s the number one question I get from cisgender people. How do I deal with pronouns? Let me say this real quickly, pronouns are an entry way to prove that you can have a conversation. Pronouns are not the conversation. That is the bar that most younger people exist at. Most trans people are asking things like, “How do I make sure that I don’t get deadnamed on all my documents? How do I make sure I’m getting paid fairly? How do I make sure that I’m not going to be fired if I do this thing or that they’re going to keep my medical history or all these other things to themselves? How am I going to not get gossiped about at work? How am I not going to get followed home from work if I have to go into an office?” All these different things that many cisgender people don’t have to think about when they’re going through their regular work day.
Okay, if we can move forward here. At least 47% of trans workers say they have suffered professionally because they’re trans. And again, I want to reframe, not because we trans. Because let me tell you something, I love being black and trans every single day. I love being black and trans. But it is coming into contact with people who, again, either go out of their way to antagonize trans people or people that think that they’re niceness alone is going to deconstruct trans antagonism. That them just being nice people is going to deconstruct trans antagonism. And someone getting my name and pronouns right once is going to make it okay for me to have to deal with John over here, who keeps sending me hate notes or looking down at me. I had a colleague once, I was working in a place where I had a staff person who wouldn’t even open my door to say hi to me. Would slip paperwork that I needed to sign under my door. So I want to be very clear about those sorts of things and the ways that things come up.
If we can move forward. Okay, so let’s get into some places for change. And before I even address some of these action steps, I want to go back to this question of how do we imagine that black trans people specifically get targeted at work or other sort of spaces? So I want you to think about when we talk about people most impacted by anti-trans discrimination, and thinking about those people as often being houseless folks, often being people who have often had to come into situations of being incarcerated, often are people who maybe have not been able to finish school, often are folks who are obviously like black folks and women and femmes are people who are often labeled angry for merely talking about our experiences, things like that. How do we criminalize those folks without having to say the word trans or black? How do we often criminalize those folks without having to say the word trans or black? If we think about houseless folks, disabled folks, disabled black trans people, if we think about people whom English might not be their first language, if we think about people who experience all these different types of other identities, how do we criminalize those folks without having to talk and say the word black or trans?
What are some things that y’all can think of? And I should also say I used to work with middle schoolers, so I never worry about silence. So I’m going to sit here and wait for y’all to say at least a couple things. How do we criminalize people that are houseless, people that often are disabled, neuro divergent people that are also at these intersections of blackness or transness? How do we criminalize those people without having to say the words black or trans? Certain dress codes. Right, most definitely. Making it seem their ask of assistance of HR resources is something to balk at. Refusing housing to people based on employment or rental history, most definitely. Not a for culture, not a culture fit. Yes, most def. So with that piece, that we’re often seen as there’s just always something. Maybe it’s we don’t seem like we talk the right way, we don’t dress the right way, we don’t look the right way, all those different things. We aren’t in the culture enough of this professionalized space. If they take too much sick leave.
I actually had a young person that was working for me, I was working at a university and I had a young biracial black trans person who someone had tried to assault them outside of their home. So they went back into their home and they missed the work day. My supervisor at the time said, “Well, we might need to fire this person because they don’t take the job seriously enough.” Like that kind of stuff. That’s the kind of level of antagonism I’m talking about that sometimes we experience that is normal.
People saying we’re too flamboyant, referring, ignoring access requirements, doors, bathroom policies. So even again, things like bathrooms, all that kind of stuff, these are entry ways to the conversation. Because being able to pee should be a very, like that’s not even about my job. That’s not even about if I could do my job. That’s about, can I even get in the building at all?
So some action steps I want people to really think about is I want people to be very clear that when we even talk about these numbers of $10,000 or less, coming out of different types of situations around housing, incarceration, all these different things. If we are invested, not just including people into our workspaces, but in supporting the lived realities of black trans people so we can even have the work conversation. Right? One of the things that we deem to do is move resources to black trans people. And I mean, some of that has money, right? So some of that has money. I do a lot of work on reparations frameworks and things like that. Doing some reparation frameworks trainings next week, for people that are interested in those kinds of conversations. I want people to really not erase the intersections of targeted trans identities. Don’t imagine transness as a flat category as transness, because usually when people imagine that flat category, they’re usually imagining someone who’s white. They’re usually imagining someone who is trying to pass as cisgender. They’re usually assuming someone who is similar to them. They’re not necessarily assuming people. They’re actually coming from all these other targeted identities. Right? I was working with an organization where I was doing some trans competency trainings for them around policy.
And at some point I was working with them through all these different policies and a person stopped me and said, “Well, as we’re looking at this Mase, did you feel affirmed when you came into our space? We have all these rainbow flags, we have all this different stuff. How did you feel?” And so I had to break their heart a little bit because I said, “Well, I came in at a time when all y’all were having lunch and I sat by the door and I sat at a table that when you came through the door, you’d have to look at me. And I smiled at everyone that came through the door, but nobody looked at me. No one talked to me that day because even though y’all have a rainbow sign on the door, you did not expect to talk about trans people who were black. You expected to talk to trans people that looked like white folks, that looked like this space. You did not expect to see me.” Right?
So really thinking about that, you need to be supporting the most targeted of trans identities. And when you support the most targetive of trans identities, you help all trans people and you help yourselves. You help yourselves regain your own humanity. And some of those skills that you’re losing when trans people are not able to be in the door. And lastly, and of course defer to the leadership of black trans people. And understanding the kinds of… So whether it’s place like the Black Trans Prayer Book, whether it’s someplace like we’re talking about the Marsha B. Johnson Institute, whether it’s talking about organizations like black trans media, other sort of stuff, there’s lots of organizations that are popping up right now and individuals.
Supporting black trans leadership is not just about supporting organizations, but understanding why so many trans people are not part of the nonprofit industrial complex, are not part of corporate spaces, are not part of medical spaces and hwy, but supporting black trans individuals. Yeah. And so I’m hoping I’m going to turn the rest of this conversation back over to Adrienne, and then we’ll get into some questions.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Thank you so much, J Mase. And as we close out the presentation portion, what we’re going to do is quickly talk about some ways in which you can craft a more inclusive trans-inclusive workplace of your own. And so we got four tips for you. The first is to adopt trans inclusive policies. And J Mase already touched on at least one aspect of this. When we talk about basic things like bathroom access. The way in which you can make this more inclusive is basically by permitting employees to use sex segregated restrooms if that’s what you have, that really correspond with their full time gender presentation, regardless of what stage they’re at, when it comes to overall transition in the transitioning process. Also, having gender neutral restrooms. Places and opportunities for people to not have to worry about, a place where they can just do the basic humanity kind of element of relieving themselves or whatnot without feeling uncomfortable in some way.
And that also kind of goes for dress codes. They can be modified and should be modified in ways that avoid gender stereotypes. And also they need to be applied consistently to all employees. Transgender employees may dress consistently in accordance with their full-time gender presentation. And allowing for that, without having to say that you need people to adhere to it based on gender, wherever they are on the spectrum, that is incredibly important. Removing a lot of those stare stereotypes associated with dress and gender. And also pronouns, name usages, creating an environment where using gender pronouns is the expected thing to do. It can go a long way. This really helps remove uncertainties, ensures people can define themselves for themselves, and also supporting and standing solidarity with people. It can involve using your correct gender pronouns for your colleagues. Misgendering someone or deadnaming them, it’s disrespectful, should not be tolerated.
And to create an inclusive culture, really having an organization that can promote that sense of inclusivity, can do that many ways as well as incorporating gender pronouns, putting them in signature lines on the emails, updating personnel, admin records, email address, business cards, websites, all of these things that essentially allow people to be themselves and to be whole in their workplaces.
And also number two, essentially trans specific diversity training. This is incredibly important and it is something that we do at Jennifer Brown Consulting. And one of the important aspects of this is educating cisgender employees. This kind of cis heteronormative concepts really seem to be ingrained in much of our society, such that a lot of it gets overlooked. And as a result, a lot of people make comments or they hold ideas that are not trans inclusive. And what we want to do is to break away from that. We want people to have the education that they need, have the knowledge and the skills so that they can create an environment that helps trans colleagues and professionals feel welcomed, valued, respected, and heard.
And also having anti harassment programs that have a trans specific lens. That is adding that anti harassment management diversity training, truly with that trans specific lens, looking through the lens, talking about scenarios, illustrations, things that individuals truly go through so that people can see themselves in those situations. And they can learn more when it comes to diversity and inclusion and understanding how to nurture and create an environment that truly helps our trans colleagues, friends, family members truly feel welcomed.
And this is something that’s really essential to helping others understand kind of the everyday discrimination that trans people face, particularly in workplaces. Also, gender identity expression. These are things that need to be included in professional development and other leadership training, as well as we need to create informal champions, essentially organizational leaders, HR staff, people managers. They must do more than simply appreciate the importance of trans inclusiveness. It’s also extremely important, it’s imperative that leaders, HR, that they educate everyone at the organization on how to make that inclusive workplace and everyday priority by essentially modeling trans inclusive behaviors on a consistent basis.
This isn’t just a one time training. Let’s say it once and it’s done at the beginning of employment or every year or so. No, this should be something that is consistently displayed and truly uplifted when it comes to management and the policy and workplace decision makers. Also, another way in which you can make a trans workplace experience more inclusive is supporting gender transition, health. When an individual transitions to their self-identified gender, an organization can really make life and the experience easier by having inclusive health insurance coverage, as well as internal protocols. Health insurance, you know that’s something that is often debated and it’s something that’s essential. And we’re definitely seeing that coming out hopefully of this pandemic. And so when it comes to health insurance coverage, you really want to evaluate your organization’s coverage plan.
Look at whether it extends to gender affirmation or confirmation surgeries and other related transgender services. So medically necessary treatments should be included in employer provided healthcare and short term disability coverage. Also, you want to determine if there are essentially blanket exclusions for trans gender coverage. If those are present and if so, how can you remove them and making sure that those exclusions aren’t going to prevent trans people from accessing care due to their gender marker.
For example, a trans man should not be denied a routine pelvic examination because insurance only covers a procedure for women patients. There are just so many ways in which you can make this possible. And there are organizations such as Google, I believe, that have a comprehensive package that cover things like reproductive options for LGBTQ people, and that these are thought to be pretty expensive, but there are options for smaller organizations. For example, a company called Arc Fertility, that’ll allow employers to add supplemental packages to basic healthcare, but basically there are options out there that can create inclusive work spaces and those options must be explored.
Also, second, as I mentioned, helping individuals essentially have a successful workplace transition by establishing protocols. We need some clear guidelines that are supportive. Things that include explaining maybe what the processes are for making necessary changes to employee records, communicating to staff, other parties, clearly outlining those responsibilities and expectations of employees when an individual is transitioning. The same thing about their expectations of the supervisors, colleagues, and other staff, making the process go as smoothly as possible, so individuals truly feel that they are welcomed, valued, respected, and heard in their workplaces.
And lastly, the fourth one, recruitment, hiring, promotion, those key things, getting in the door, keeping people there and treating them of the value that they deserve. When you’re looking at this and we’re talking on the recruitment, you have to ask yourself, are you scouting for diverse voices by contacting organizations that would have more diverse people, such as networks that really specialize in uplifting trans professionals? Perhaps you should look at different resources and place that you are going to seek new talent.
Also, look at your hiring process. Does the interviewer have a process, for example, allowing someone to use a preferred name or background checks and how they require full history? Is it of legal names? Really, are there places and spaces to the point where you are eliminating these barriers, these things that can make people feel uncomfortable and unwanted. Are the managers culturally competent when it comes to understanding how transphobia can manifest in professional spaces? What steps are you taking to essentially reduce the implicit biases in your hiring recruitment retention processes? And on that same note, let’s talk about paying fair wages. Objectively evaluate, how are you compensating staff members. If you have individuals who are trans among you, how are they ranking in terms of opportunity, access to opportunity? Are they getting promotions? How are people being treated? What types of implicit biases are at play and what can you do to overcome them?
Taking that lens and looking deeper as opposed to trying to ignore or disregard the hurdles and impediments that are put in place because of bias in our society. We need people to invest more in trans leadership as J Mase hinted at earlier. Being trans inclusive isn’t just about hiring trans employees, but it’s also about supporting them to become effective leaders within your organization. So looking at your investment there and truly making that investment and bolstering it is incredibly important. And so those are four things that you can do to make your workplace more trans-inclusive. And we want to thank you for being with us in this presentation. And now we are going to move into our Q&A portion with just about 15 minutes left, which is perfect timing. So if you do have questions, please do feel free to shoot them along using the link in the chat and they will be passed my way. And so to go ahead and get started, J Mase, let’s go ahead and let me ask you how can organizations create inclusive programs and events to celebrate trans folks without outing anyone or putting them on the spot?
J MASE III: So, I mean, I think there’s a both and, right? Because there’s some people that might be… So I guess one question I also have for audience members is really evaluating are they aware of trans folks that are already actually in the space? And how are you actually also checking in with people who already are out? If there are not people that are out, there might be some reasons why that people are not out. To me, I always love to have spaces, one, that are closed spaces just for trans people.
I think that is the number one thing, but I think that’s also why you invite other trans folks in to do things like speaking or hosting programs or stuff like that. So what would it look like to have all employees on a call like today in which people can kind of be present and know that what your values are as an organization. I think, and this kind of goes in with one of the comments that I see in the chat here that said, oh, we have to have training for cis employees, which is correct. There needs to be training for cis employees, but there’s often not spaces that are for trans people, that we talk about transness from a lens that is only about making cis people better and not about supporting actual trans people.
And I’m hoping that makes sense for y’all. So I think it’s a both and. It’s having some closed spaces just for trans employees, depending on how big your organization is, where no one else kind of knows who’s in on those things, except for that person, the facilitator, and whoever else comes in, as well as having some public facing things that make it again very clear about what your company’s values are.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: All right. So some notes. Let’s see, appreciate the guidance and suggestions, but how do I start the conversation with HR or to even consider a self assessment? Are there any email communication templates that can be leveraged to start the conversation?
J MASE III: So I guess I would love to hear more from that question in the sense of when you’re are talking about a self-assessment around which part, because there’s lots of different levels to that. And so I’m thinking… So yeah. So if you don’t mind, I think it was Marco, was it?
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
J MASE III: If you could provide a little bit more context about what you mean.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Hopefully, Marco will chime in, but I guess in the meantime, when it comes to workplaces and trying to get individuals… Cannot unmute myself. That’s perfectly fine. If you want to put it in the chat, that’d be great, Marco. But, J Mase, in terms of creating work environments where you want it to truly be trans-inclusive, how do you start the conversation with your HR department or your leadership to get them to see the value?
J MASE III: Oh, I would say in the same way that we’re talking about, so I think something like saying, “Hey, I actually just went to this training or this talk-back today about trans issues, and I’m really curious about how we evaluate the success or the openness to trans folks within our organization. Has that been something that we’ve already started? Have we already done any kind of survey on that? Are we willing to bring in someone to talk about these things?” So I think it’s even just using today and saying, “Hey, these are things that I’m talking about with other folks or that I’ve seen other people talking about at organizations. Where are we at with that?” So it doesn’t have to be super complicated. I think sometimes people make it… It feels more intense in the body than it has to be on email, and it could really just be a check-in about connecting what you did today to the future.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: All right. So, let’s see, I am a lot behind in understanding the importance of pronouns, so I feel I would be ineffective in encouraging them. Could you perhaps quickly explain the importance of pronouns?
J MASE III: I mean, the importance is just like I’m saying. So when I talk to Adrienne, if I called Adrienne Mary for the rest of our conversation, that would not be very thoughtful or disrespectful. I would imagine we probably might not talk again if I did that, right, and I repeatingly did not use Adrienne’s name in the same way that using pronouns… Cisgender people have the luxury of having their pronouns used correctly every day, right, so it’s never… To me, the question about what is the importance of pronouns, but, really, do we believe trans people as being valuable and do we believe that what they’re saying is real? Do we believe that trans people are real? If we believe that trans people are real and that I deserve not to get harassed at work, that is the importance of pronouns and using the correct pronouns for trans people and spending time and actually practicing someone’s pronouns if someone uses pronouns that are new to you, right?
We didn’t even really get into neo-pronouns today or pronouns for a lot of nonbinary people. But especially even if you’re thinking about how are you retaining people over time, younger people, right… Young people right now today, when we’re talking about trans folks that are coming up in the world and even just LGBTQ young people in general, are more identifying in ways that are outside the gender binary, right? There’s more language right now that people are being able to use. So if you see a future of your organization living past the next 40 years, you have to consider that there’s going to be some
ways that we’re going to have to adapt our language, and that means keeping up with some of the language in some of the conversations that are resurfacing. Because I believe, again, these are not new conversations. These are resurfacing conversations about gender and gender pronouns.
So I’m hoping that answers your question, but just like you want to be talked to thoughtfully, I don’t want to be called something outside of my name or my pronouns today. That is a type of antagonism, and it causes a lot of stress for your trans employees as well as everyone that’s trans that hears it, right, as well as teaches other cisgender people that it’s okay to disrespect this person because when you’re okay with not using someone’s pronouns, it’s not just the pronoun. It’s that now people are like, “This person’s opinion doesn’t matter. This person’s leadership actually doesn’t matter.” It opens the entryway to cause more trauma to that person and, again, as well as other people in the future.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Yes, I’d absolutely agree. I think it’s a disregarding of humanity, and it’s something we’ve seen historically throughout the times in terms of name usage, where Black people were called by their first name, which was considered disrespectful back in the day. It’s just ways you can disrespect people. For example, my best friend is trans, and she is an attorney, and they will dead-name her in court. They will call her by the wrong pronouns, they will mistreat her, and they’re doing that to upset her, to antagonize her, to essentially throw her off her game, despite the fact that they know better.
So it’s clear that it is a form of disrespect and it dehumanizes people. When we allow it to go unchecked, it just makes us even more part of the problem. So it’s something that I encourage people to do, to learn others’ pronouns. If it means that you are going to have to work a little bit harder because maybe the structuring of the English language doesn’t necessarily suit they/them at times, then you just work a little harder, but you do it out of respect and recognition of the humanity of others without a doubt. All right, next question. Can you share a great example of a D&I policy that is trans-inclusive?
J MASE III: Yeah. So I saw someone ask about specific policy stuff. Because, to me, I think policy and practice are separate, and so you could have great policy and really terrible practice. So the policy doesn’t matter if the practice is awful, but something very simple is just including gender expression in gender identity, right, presumed and actual gender expression under gender identity, right, in the same way that you protect people around race and class and sex in that way. That’s the language that I would use.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Yeah. And even having some acknowledgement of it goes a long way because I know I’ve worked at a number of places and dealt with a number of businesses, and there are people who still don’t necessarily grasp the concepts. As a result, I think it can create more problems as opposed to having conversations that need to be had and providing people with the opportunity to learn and to grow so that they can feel more confident in being colleagues, being co-conspirators, accomplices, however you may want to say it, because I think there are a lot of people out there in workplaces who do want to know better so that they can do better. For that to happen, you need policies, procedures, you need education, without a doubt. All right. How do you suggest asking and/or identifying trans folks and inviting them to a meeting just for them without outing folks or tokenizing folks?
J MASE III: So it also depends on how big your organization is, so the context, so some of these are particular to your space, right? But I think saying, “Hey,” so whether that’s through your HR department if your HR is a safe place to hold that conversation… For some people, HR is not the safe place to do that conversation if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, right? But announcing, “Hey, we’re having this meeting if you would like to RSVP,” sending it out to your folks and allowing people to RSVP that way, anonymously, I think is the best way. Yeah.
If someone is out, again, I think having some sort of way in which you check in with your trans staff members is perfectly okay if people are already okay with talking about transness. I’ll say for myself, I’m very out in all aspects of my life. I have some colleagues and loved ones who are very stealth in their lives, stealth being someone who is not out about their trans identity, especially in cisgender spaces. But, yeah, giving people a place to RSVP anonymously, I think, is the best situation. I’m seeing some really good questions that I’m like, “Oh, I think I lost one,” but I’m excited to see what other questions people have, too.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: All right. So, in your work, what has been one of your best tools that connects with cisgenders with a closed mindset?
J MASE III: So here’s the question I’m going to throw back at y’all, right? How do we commit to retaining transphobic people more than we commit to retaining trans people in our space? It’s like, well, we’re talking about… So people have this mythos that, oh, if we just convince everybody that trans people are okay, we’ll make the space okay. That world does not exist. We live in a transphobic world, a trans-antagonistic world. As I shared before, our realities are very different, right? I can’t move through my life or my work expecting for every single cisgender person to be down with my life. It’s not real.
But I do know I have to live my life, right, and I do know I have to make space for other people. That’s also the problem with only sticking to educating cisgender people because you are centering people that not only just don’t know the least but go out of their way not to know, right, and we miss that. We miss that people go out of their way not to know anything. So when you center trans people and you make a space in which trans people are able to be honest and open about themselves, the rest of the space will follow because people will, again, be clear about your values and what you will and will not tolerate. If you don’t tolerate trans antagonism, you won’t tolerate it.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Yeah. Absolutely. All right. So are there any resources or companies you recommend that may have an anti-harassment training course with a trans lens?
J MASE III: So, yeah, I mean the two organizations I work with, right? So the Black Trans Prayer Book, that’s something that we do very often with different organizations, as I was talking about policy work and things like that, as well as, obviously, the Marsha P. Johnson Institute. That’s another lens of the work that we do there. We create space for Black trans people as well as creating a world in which the conditions are better for Black trans people overall. So, selfishly, those two organizations.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Yes. And we’ll definitely… As always, we provide a resource sheet at the conclusion of our conversations, so you’ll be able to have links to all of this, as well as other materials, books, and whatnot, so you can continue to learn and to find resources that work for you. Definitely. So, J Mase, I guess I’d go ahead and ask you, we only have a few minutes left, what would you like people to take away when it comes to Black trans individuals, workplaces, Black History Month? What is it?
J MASE III: Adrienne, that’s so big. Okay.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: I know. I love it.
J MASE III: Yeah. So the biggest thing for me and I think is the biggest crux of my argument… Because, as I shared with y’all, I’ve been working independently now for about nine years, and I did not mean to do that. I was trying to do the good thing of, “Oh, I’m working in nonprofit spaces. Oh, I’m working at universities. I’m doing all these things and had some very cushy offices, right?” The reality is, is when it comes to the actual lived everyday experience of Black trans people, I want people to think about how do you support people that are not just in service to you in an organization but are Black trans people being, Black trans people existing.
When we move to work for people that aren’t doing labor for us, that’s when we find the ways to best create a better world not just for ourselves but all those other Black trans folks, and it makes our company cultures different, too, when we can say we’re actually reaching out to support folks individually who need support or individually who are going to work with us, who are not going to be with us full-time but we understand as a part of our extended community. So that’s the biggest thing. That’s the biggest thing, that a lot of people worry about where their company culture is right now instead of what they want it to be 30 years from now, right?
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: That is a very powerful thing. Well, thank you so much for that insight, and can you please tell everyone where they can find more information about you as well as the foundation, or, excuse me, institute?
J MASE III: Yeah. So people can find out about the Marsha P. Johnson Institute at marshap.org, so you can check that out. People can find out more information about me and stalk me on all the interwebs situations at jmaseiii.com, which is jmaseiii.com, or at theblacktransprayerbook.com, right? So those are the two places you can find me and this work.
ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Excellent. Thank you so much for joining us today and for providing such great insightful information. There is in the chat now a form for feedback, as we’d love to hear from you all as we cultivate the Advocacy in Action Series, and we very much appreciate you all joining us. As I did mention before, we will send a follow-up list of resources, so you will have this information available as well as a recording of our conversation today. I want to thank you all for joining us to celebrate Black History Month and for being a part of this conversation, Embracing the Uprising: Honoring Black Trans Voices and Creating Trans-Inclusive Workplaces. Thanks so much, again, for joining us and have a wonderful rest of the week.
JENNIFER BROWN: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com? You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion, and the future of work and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.
DOUG FORESTA: You’ve been listening to The Will to Change: Uncovering True Stories of Diversity and Inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening, and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.
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