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Feeling Invisible on Transgender Day of Visibility

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

4 Ways You Can Make a Difference

I am a person who likes to focus on the positive, not dwell on the negative. So I have to confess, I have dreaded writing this year’s Transgender Day of Visibility blog.

Usually, March 31st is a day for great celebration within the trans and gender nonconforming (TGNC) community. But over the past four years, the joy we experience from being visible in our colleges, work places and faith communities has been darkened by the visibility we have lost in K-12 schools, the military, and in non-discrimination policies related to housing, healthcare and employment.

Just this week, I again felt the current administration’s erasing effect as I filled out the 2020 Census form. Nowhere on this form – on an instrument that will be used to direct billions of dollars in federal funds for schools, housing and healthcare – nowhere could I be counted as a transgender person, as a member of a rapidly growing demographic with specific needs in these areas. To add insult to injury, only two sex choices, male and female, were given on the form – despite the fact that the District of Columbia and at least sixteen US states currently offer three legal gender markers - M, F or X - on their residents’ Drivers Licenses.

As I expected, just writing the above paragraph has my stomach churning. What did I do with my Tums? Where did that bottle go?

Since I can’t find the antacids, let’s move on to something more positive. Let’s focus on what we can do to celebrate March 31st and raise the visibility of my bruised, battered, but incredibly resilient TGNC community.

Give Gender Inclusive Language Visibility in Your Organization

One highly impactful thing we can do as individuals, and as organizations, is expand our use of gender inclusive language to reflect growing cultural understandings of gender. Since we now know that the human family includes non-binary and intersex people, it is no longer respectful to address audiences as, “Ladies and Gentleman.” Instead, open your remarks with, “Esteemed colleagues,” or “Honored guests.”

If you are organizing an event where people will have name tags, be sure to include attendees’ pronouns along with their names. In fact, on any sort of intake form – for job applications, medical and mental healthcare services, volunteer or new member forms – ask people’s pronouns so you can then address them respectfully. And of course, be sure you have added your own pronouns to your email signature.

In job postings, get rid of the formerly recommended phrase “he/she” because it sends a message to all non-binary applicants that they are not welcome. Likewise, non-profits may need to update by-laws and replace every “he/she” with the gender inclusive singular pronoun, they.

Spiritual communities also need to consider how gendered language is being used. Phrases like “brothers and sisters” can be replaced with “beloved siblings” or (in traditions that refer to the Divine as God) “members of the family of God.” Likewise, a more inclusive way to refer to “mothers and fathers” is to simply say “parents.” Words like children, kids, youngsters or youth can be used instead of “boys and girls.”

Across the globe, people are experimenting with more gender expansive terms, recognizing the power of language to make people visible or render them invisible. Let’s make the effort to use all our words for good.

Raise the Visibility of the TGNC Community with Your Imagery

Along with language, we can also use images to raise the visibility of the TGNC community. More and more, I am noticing persons of diverse sexual orientations in ads and commercials. But many organizations are still passing up opportunities to represent persons of differing gender identities and gender expressions. While speaking at a conference for LGBTQ grad students, I noticed another missed opportunity. The vendor area was awash in rainbow stripes, but very few recruiters had banners, materials or swag featuring the baby blue, pink and white of the trans flag. And no one was displaying non-binary colors, even though a 2017 Harris Poll revealed that 10% of millennial respondents identified as some form of non-binary. On a more positive note, I knew I would be welcomed by St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, when I opened their website and saw a trans flag next to the rainbow flag on their homepage. As we consider the images we use in our marketing and recruiting, let us never forget that a picture is still worth a thousand words.

Create Visibility (and Understanding!) through Education

A third impactful thing we can do to raise the visibility of gender diverse people is educate, educate, educate! Given that 21% of Americans still believed, as of 2017, that being transgender is a mental disorder, there is obviously more educating that needs to be done. This is why companies and corporation are providing a wide array of learning opportunities to their employers. They are recognizing the need for not only Trans 101 presentations, but for targeted training to help managers effectively lead gender diverse teams, to equip recruiters to attract and hire highly qualified TGNC candidates, and to empower HR and DEI leaders to create the fully inclusive cultures needed to retain gender diverse employees and their many workers with TGNC loved ones. Likewise, the need for workplace training has prompted my inclusion training firm to create an online offering. Companies use this enterprise-wide solution to train all their employees on how to interact respectfully with gender diverse co-workers and customers. Such training greatly reduces the risk of lawsuits, negative publicity and operational interruptions, and increases the inclusion, engagement and productivity of all employees.

These are learning opportunities that businesses are providing. But what will you do, personally, to raise the visibility of TGNC people through education?

After the Corona Virus threat passes, which of your organizations could you encourage to consider an educational event? How about your Rotary Club or sorority gathering? What about a professional organization, chamber of commerce, your child’s PTA or your family’s faith community? After several congregants said they wanted to know more about gender diverse people, my business partner and I were asked to address an adult Sunday School class. Since I am a lifetime church leader, and my firm’s co-founder is an ordained minister and author of a book on what the Bible says in support of TGNC individuals, we were happy to engage in this educational opportunity. We were even more delighted to know that it was the questions of just a few individuals that raised awareness of the need for education about gender diversity, showing, once again, that the actions of just one or two people can make a significant difference.

Raise Your Own Visibility When You Vote!

During this election year, and given my earlier reflections on the visibility lost under the current administration, I feel compelled to state the obvious: what you do at the polls matters. It will significantly impact TGNC people - and the entire LGBTQ community – for better or worse. One of the best ways to raise our visibility, and protect our basic human rights to non-discriminatory access to employment, housing and healthcare is with your vote.

Along with the suggestions offered here, there are many other things individuals and organizations can do to raise the visibility of gender diverse people. Please know that every action you take makes a difference and gives hope to me and my community - especially in these challenging times.

Okay. I feel better now. Perhaps I won’t need those antacids after all. Maybe all I really need – this March 31st, and every day - is to know that my community and its allies are doing everything possible to raise the visibility of trans and gender nonconforming people. Thank you, for doing what you can do, to make us visible.

About the Author:

Gabrielle Claiborne is co-founder and CEO of Transformation Journeys Worldwide. She is a thought leader in helping organizations create fully trans-inclusive cultures and a dynamic keynote and  TEDx speaker. Gabrielle has been named an Outstanding Voice for Diversity and Inclusion by the Atlanta Business Chronicle and her work has been featured in Forbes.


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