Kojo talks with author Colson Whitehead about his new novel "The Underground Railroad" and its resonance at this particular moment in history.
Nine out of ten Americans will tell you there’s a federal law prohibiting workplace discrimination against someone who is gay or transgender. No such law exists, but an 11th Circuit Court ruling and a recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decision expanded the definition of sex discrimination to include transgender and gender nonconforming people. But many rights activists say state and federal laws are still needed to prohibit discrimination of gays and transexuals in the workplace.
- Allyson Robinson Deputy Director for Employee Programs, Human Rights Campaign Foundation Workplace Project.
- Howard Ross author, "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance" (Rowman & Littlefield); also Principal, Cook Ross
Allyson Robinson tells her incredible story.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Howard Ross is here. As states across the country pass laws legalizing gay marriage with the president's endorsement and celebrities come out of the closet, many in the gay community are celebrating a new era of acceptance.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut others point out that rights for transgender individuals are still a decade or more behind that. It's a group that faces a distinctive brand of discrimination in the office and outside of it. And while nine out of ten Americans believe there is a federal law that prohibits employers from firing someone because that person is gay or transgender, no such law actually exists.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut two major decisions are likely to reset the ground rules for future discrimination cases. In April, the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said that transgender and gender nonconforming individuals are covered under Title 7 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Federal Court ruled in December that transgender persons are protected under the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to discuss what this means for gay and transgender rights is Howard Ross. He's a diversity consultant and the principal of Cook Ross. Howard, it's good to see you again.
MR. HOWARD ROSSHi Kojo, always good to be here.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Allyson Robinson. Allyson Robinson is the deputy director for employee programs with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation Workplace Project. Allyson Robinson, thank you for joining us.
MS. ALLYSON ROBINSONThanks Kojo. It's a pleasure.
NNAMDIYou too can join us at 800-433-8850, join the conversation that is. Have you ever experienced discrimination at work because of your sexual orientation? 800-433-8850. Do you think we need state and federal laws to protect people who are gay, lesbian or transgender?
NNAMDIYou can go to our website, kojo.show.org, ask a question, make a comment there. Shoot us an email to email@example.com or simply call us, 800-433-8850. Anderson Cooper, who everybody knows is a prominent television news anchor, he came out last week saying he's gay and he referenced his job as one reason he kept quiet about his sexual orientation for so long. What kind of process is it, deciding when and how to reveal that kind of information about yourself? Both of you, I'll start with you, Howard.
ROSSWell, I think, Kojo, that first of all, it's a very personal process and I think that's one of the things that we struggle with as a society is that other people try to make judgments about when somebody should or shouldn't, either in one direction or the other. And so, you know, every person is making those choices based on personal determinations that they have.
ROSSIt's important, I think, to distinguish between the choice of one's identity versus the choice of exposing one's identity and sometimes people find those words collapse. I mean, Anderson Cooper's orientation being a gay man wasn't the issue. The issue was when did he choose to reveal that in a public statement and depending upon the particular position one is in professionally, that could be a very dicey thing.
ROSSI mean, there are the obvious considerations which is how safe am I going to be with the people I'm working with? Are people going to discriminate against me either overtly or covertly? And we can talk about that a little bit more in a bit.
ROSSBut then there's the other question, which is do I now become the gay reporter as opposed to just Anderson Cooper the reporter. And as you know, you know, whenever you're part of a non-dominant group, whether that's by race or gender or ethnicity or sexual orientation or anything else, there's always the danger that you get identified as that, you know, President Obama being the black president, for example, where we didn't talk about President Bush being the white president.
ROSSAnd so that's a natural tendency that human beings have is to identify people. And I think, at least from my read of Anderson Cooper's statement, that was one of the real issues that he had is that he didn't want to be seen as the gay reporter. He wanted to be seen as a reporter who also happened to be gay and that's sometimes a little bit challenging.
NNAMDITalk about that process if you will, Allyson.
ROBINSONSure, you know. I have a very personal perspective on this, Kojo. As a transgender woman, this is a process that I experienced for myself firsthand. And in the context of my work, I'm able to talk to, you know, thousands of people every year who have had their own experience. I would agree with everything that Howard said, of course.
ROBINSONI would add that for most of us, if you're not Anderson Cooper, it's an ongoing process. You know in my -- the earliest coming-out experience that I can ever remember hearing anything about was Ellen DeGeneres, right? Ellen came out in the context of a national television show. It was front-page news when it happened and in the space of, you know, 30 seconds, everybody in America knew that Ellen DeGeneres was a lesbian.
ROBINSONFor most of us who don't have the platforms that Ellen or Anderson have, the process is very different. We come out slowly over time in sort of concentric circles, if you will. So the first person I came out to was my sister. I knew that she was someone who cared very deeply for me and who would accept me on the other side of learning this new information about me and it was true.
ROBINSONBeyond that, you know, was my parents and then it was my wife of about a decade at that time and then my children, eventually other friends and beyond that, the people in my workplace and on and on. There was a decision at each one of those stages. Is now the right time? Is it worth the risk?
ROBINSONAnd what I found, you know, many years later now, is that that continues. You know, when I move to a new city, at what point do I come out to my neighbors? At what point do I come out to my doctor? Do I need to come out to the person who checks me out at the grocery store? Is that even important? So these are the kinds of things that go through your mind. I think that's a much more common experience.
NNAMDIOf course, the fact that the coming out publicly that you remember most is Ellen DeGeneres suggests that you're a little bit younger than Howard and I because he and I can probably go back to Billie Jean King.
ROSSThat's exactly right.
NNAMDIYou too can join this conversation at 800-433-8850. Howard?
ROSSYeah, first of all, Kojo, I just wanted to say I'm so thrilled to have Allyson join us. Allyson is a good friend and I just so admire her and all the work she's done in this area so I'm just really...
NNAMDIWell, I'll have Allyson tell a little bit more about her personal story later on...
NNAMDI...but the process.
ROSSThe one thing that I wanted to add to this conversation that was so clear to me when Allyson was just speaking is that we, those of us who are in the more dominant group on this side, you know, being a straight man, for example, on my part or listening to conversations within, amongst straight people about this is that, that persistent caution that we heard Allyson just speak to, caution at every level.
ROSSAnd even I would suggest that you're sort of simplifying it a little bit, Allyson, because even at each level at work, for example, I might come out to you first, but not the person next to you because you I could be sure of, but the person next to you, I'm not. It's not like we do have a press conference where you say to everybody in the office necessarily, here's who I am.
ROSSAnd I think that that sense of fear, that sense of caution, that sense of insecurity, that concern that no matter how safe I am here somebody could walk in the door who, all of a sudden, I could feel unsafe with, is something that those of us who are in a dominant group, in this case, those of us who are straight, don't really -- can't really possibly get in our bodies in the way that it exists for people, that to walk around with that sense that at any moment somebody is going to discount me for who I am.
ROSSAnd that's the thing that I think when we see externally, we can't possibly feel...
NNAMDIBut has the climate also changed because Anderson Cooper also said that remaining silent on this aspect of his private life for so long had given the mistaken impression, his words, that he was trying to hide it or was ashamed. What does it say about the current climate, do you think, that he decided to come out now, Allyson?
ROBINSONYeah, I think it's a great point, Kojo. Clearly, things are very, very different today than they were when Anderson Cooper started his career many years ago. At least they're significantly different for gay and lesbian people and to a certain extent, bisexual people as well.
ROBINSONBut I often make the point in contexts where the larger LGBT community is being discussed that transgender issues and concerns, generally speaking, I consider to be about two decades behind concerns that are related to sexual orientation.
NNAMDII said one decade at the opening. You think it's two, eh?
ROBINSONI would. That's the estimate that I'm accustomed to giving. But I do think -- I think that the rate of change is definitely increasing and I think you'll see that continue. It highlights one other important difference I thought of as Howard was speaking. You know there are certain people within the LGBT community who are privileged to make a choice about whether they will come out or not in a particular context.
ROBINSONFor most gay men, lesbians, for most bisexual people, it is a choice that they can make or not. For transgender and transsexual and gender nonconforming people, for many of us, we don't have the privilege of making that choice. The very experience of our lives indicates that people around us are going to see, they're going to notice.
NNAMDIThat you're being transformed?
ROBINSONExactly. And so, you know, we may or may not have, you know, the choice that's open to us is at what point am I going to do this? Because when I do, then that opens up an entirely different kind of experience of life than the one that I've had up to this point.
NNAMDIWe're talking in general terms. Let's be more specific about your own story. You're a West Point graduate. You were an officer who later transitioned. Tell us about that.
ROBINSONThat's true. I was fortunate enough to attend West Point. I graduated from there in 1994 with a commission in the U.S. Army and with a wife also. My wife Daniele was a classmate of mine at West Point. We met there and were married shortly after we graduated. And I've said in many contexts, the army was sort of family business for me.
ROBINSONMy dad is a retired army NCO. His father served in the Second World War and so on. It was something that I always felt very much called to do, was to serve others in that way as a soldier and I loved my career in the military. But it's probably worth noting that I didn't necessarily leave the military because of my issues with my gender identity. It was many years after I left before I really began to deal with those issues in a serious kind of life-changing way.
ROBINSONBut it was certainly something that I experienced as a cadet, as an army officer. It's an experience of myself and the world around me that I've had for literally as long as I can remember.
NNAMDIAnd your wife today is your wife that you married while you were in...
ROBINSONYes, she is.
ROBINSONShe is. We've been married for 18 years this year.
NNAMDIHoward, beyond the pressure to keep one's sexual identity or orientation private, there's also the flipside. Is there pressure to come out for celebrities or for others to represent, so to speak, the group to which they feel they belong?
ROSSYeah, I think absolutely in these days. There are people outed, you know, against their, you know, beyond their choice. Certainly there are judgments on people's part. There are people who, from the activist side, who believe that everybody should come out. And I think it's challenging because, of course, we're always -- whenever we're doing that, we're judging people outside of their circumstance, outside of their personal situation, outside of the things that have happened to them in their life beforehand, outside of what they see around them in terms of people's reactions.
ROSSBut we all know that doesn't stop us from having judgments and as human beings, we tend to look in, particularly I think in the case of something where we're dealing with deep feelings where feelings on both sides tend to be strong. The feeling of protecting people is strong, but also the feeling of people who have kind of gone through it themselves or want that support get angry, for example, at somebody like Anderson Cooper and say, if you were to only come out, it would be easier for me.
ROSSWhen Ellen came out, it was easier for me therefore you should come out, too. And so in cases like that, we lose or forget to respect the rights of people to make that choice for themselves and what it's about. And then, of course, there's another group of people who, as we've seen, you know, we've seen these things in Congress and the like, you know, people who are closeted themselves, maybe even to themselves to some degree, but they're closeted. They're not revealing.
ROSSBut then the way they deal with that sometimes is a result of the sort of disowned self is by becoming (word?) against the rights of LGBT folks. And so there are often people who want people held accountable for the fact that here you are, you know, sleeping with young men yourself, if you're a man, and then you're going out and passing legislation which makes the very act that you're participating in. And so the hypocrisy brings up feelings for people as well. So I think there's a wide range.
NNAMDIUnderscoring the idea of symbolism, Congressman Barney Frank decided over the weekend that he would get married to his partner before he left congress because this is his last term in congress. And he made it clear that he was doing it because he felt that it was very important from a symbolic standpoint to have somebody who was actually in a same-sex marriage as a member of congress first time ever. Here's Daniel in Great Falls, Va. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELHi Kojo, Hi Allyson. How's everybody?
DANIELWell, first I didn't realize, Allyson, you've been with your partner for 18 years. Congratulations. That's very cool. And for Kojo, that's actually 36 in straight years. Most people tell me there's a conversion trend there.
NNAMDII'll keep it mind.
DANIELBut I have a question or comment, I'm not totally sure, but kind of an anecdote. I'm gay and I'm out, but one thing that's always -- I've actually, you know, gotten in arguments with other people in the gay community because I am not very expressive of it. I'm not politically conservative, but kind of reserved modest person. And a lot of people tend to kind of view that as me being closeted. And if asked, I answer that I’m gay. I don't have any trouble with it. But I guess my question is, you know, is there a distinction to be made in the larger gay community of people who just don't feel like that needs to be the thing that defines them and that's just one aspect of them.
ROBINSONOh, clearly, clearly, I think there is. I mean, I think that activism is a very personal decision because it's always a decision that comes at a cost. And I'm very hesitant to judge the decisions that others make around this area. How out am I going to be? You know, what events am I going to attend? What am I going to say to this family member, to this coworker? For that very reason I always encourage people to very carefully count the cost, not just the first time they come out but every time they step out and speak up for these issues.
NNAMDIWhat made you decide to go there, so to speak, to become an activist? Was family support a major part of that decision?
ROBINSONHaving that support was a major part of that decision for me. I didn't mention my second career yet, which was I was a minister. I was a Baptist minister for 11 years and preached in churches in Europe and in the United States. I did that for the same reason that I went into the military. I experienced it as a personal calling. I was -- that was a part of why I'm here, right.
ROBINSONAnd my decision to go into activism while I was a student at Baylor University at seminary there, the largest Baptist university in the world, was very much in the same vein. I experienced some events as a closeted transgender student where we had a group of students who came in and who essentially protested the university and its policies against LGBT people on behalf of those of us who were closeted in that context. And I really felt, upon witnessing that and receiving the benefit of it, that I could do no less.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with Howard Ross and Allyson Robinson. Howard Ross is a diversity consultant and the principal of Cook Ross. We're discussing about the challenges that face members who are identified as LGBT, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered in the workplace. 800-433-8850. People, do you think we need state and federal laws to protect people who are gay, lesbian or transgender? Tell us what you think, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on discrimination in the workplace in general and against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered in particular. We're talking with Allyson Robinson, deputy director for employee programs with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation Workplace Project. And Howard Ross is with us. He is a diversity consultant and the principal of Cook Ross. He joins us on a regular basis.
NNAMDIAllyson, sexual identity is something that's very often misunderstood. What are some of the assumptions that people tend to make about gender and identity?
ROBINSONWell, I think the -- perhaps the most harmful assumption that people make about gender identity is that only people like me have it, right. Only someone who is transgender has gender identity. We have a broken or problematic gender identity. But the fact is it's something that we all have and I can sort of prove that by asking you a simple question.
ROBINSONYou know, if I brought with me into the studio today a check for a million dollars and I was going to write that check to you on the condition that you would go on to undergo sex reassignment surgery, what's commonly known as a sex change, and from that point forward you would live your life expressing yourself and your gender in a way that's exactly the opposite that you've been comfortable with up to this point, you know, for a million dollars, would you take it? Chances are you wouldn't.
ROBINSONThe vast majority of people would not. And it's not because, you know, the surgery is expensive and they recognize that...
NNAMDINow wait a minute, did you say a million dollars?
ROBINSONI did say a million.
ROSSYou're negotiating now, Kojo, is that it?
NNAMDINo -- yeah, go ahead, please. Go ahead, please.
ROBINSONWell, you know, it's not because they recognize that it's expensive, although it is and, you know, I'll pay for it and you can keep the -- make the bottom line a million. It's to because they recognize that it's very painful and requires a long -- a lengthy recovery, which is also true. But it's because they recognize that that's not who they are, that they would in essence be living in-authentically. They would be living a lie if they were asked to live that way.
ROBINSONWhat that shows is that you have a gender identity just like I do. And it shows further that that gender identity is independent from what's going on below the waist, if you will, or below the neckline. Because what I've said is I can change that for you but you recognize that that's not who you are. We all have a gender identity. For people like me it just so happens that for whatever reason, reasons we don't fully understand, our gender identities are not in consonance with the rest of our bodies, with the sex that we were assigned at birth. There's a dissonance there and it's the transition process that allows us to change that and live healthy whole productive lives.
NNAMDIHoward, care to comment on the (unintelligible) ?
ROSSYeah, I think that all of that is true and there's a whole other piece to it which is that we have a tendency in our culture, and I think in most cultures in the world, to live in a state of dualism. We like when things are clearly either or, you know, up down, white black, hot cold, whatever, day night. And in reality life doesn't occur that way. I mean, if you think of day and night, for example, we arbitrarily say a certain time, 6:23 in the morning -- make one up -- becomes day as opposed to night.
ROSSBut we know that that's not a point in time where one thing becomes another if we look at it as a transition. And I think where sexual identity is concerned the same is true. We know if we look biologically at people that there are people who go from one extreme to the other. There are many people who are intersexual who have -- who are born with sex organs that are vestigial or even two sets of sex organs. There are people who see themselves anywhere from dramatically heterosexual to dramatically homosexual in terms of their sexual orientation.
ROSSI could go on and on but the point is as a society what we do is we draw a line in the middle and say you're either straight or gay, you're either this or that. And that means that when somebody does experience something as Allyson did there's something "abnormal" about them or weird or wrong or freaky as opposed to seeing it as part of the normal condition of human society.
ROSSNow we've gotten to a point scientifically where this can be addressed in a way that it couldn't have been addressed 50 years ago, or however long ago. But nonetheless, the condition that's behind it is still there. And as that goes the other piece to the circumstance that Allyson just described, the other reason that people might not take that money to change is because it makes them into this "thing that they're uncomfortable with, this person who is not a normal person." And I'm saying all of this in quotes obviously.
ROSSAnd so there's the added emotional impact of this which speaks to the subtlety of the things that people have to deal with when they make these transitions.
NNAMDII wanted to cut to the chase, workplace issues. Allyson, transgender, people face huge hurdles even finding work, it's my understanding. The unemployment rate is more than twice the national rate. What are some of the issues?
ROBINSONThat's very true. And, in fact, if you sort of cross tab that data by race and ethnicity, you find that the situation is far worse for transgender people of color. Transgender African Americans, for example, experience unemployment and poverty 35 percent, right, which is seven times the national average when the study was conducted just a couple of years ago.
ROBINSONI think frankly that the issues -- I think Howard's done a great job of highlighting precisely what the issues are in workplace discrimination. Within the movement we have a sort of nickname for this. We call it the ick factor, right, the idea either that -- personally I'm very uncomfortable with the transition that this person is experiencing or has experienced, with this person's physical appearance or whatever. Or -- and/or that I think coworkers, colleagues, clients, customers will be uncomfortable with this and therefore it will harm productivity. It will harm the bottom line.
ROBINSONOf course we -- diversity professionals know that that's patently false, that diversity of all kinds in the workplace actually benefits the bottom line and it does so significantly. I really think that that's what's at the heart of this matter though is that ick factor.
NNAMDIAs we mentioned earlier, there have been two big legal cases related to this. In April the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued what many called a watershed ruling. The gender identity discrimination is a form of sex discrimination on the Title 7 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is being called a landmark case. How significant do you think it is, Allyson?
ROBINSONWell, I would want to point out, Kojo, that while -- I'm not a lawyer. Some of my best friends are lawyers, though. I think that it's true that the EEOC decision in the Macy case, it was clearly a historic -- it was a crucially important decision. What it means is that trans people -- transgender people who have experienced workplace discrimination can now take those complaints to the EEOC. They're the federal agency that's charged with enforcing Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act and have those claims taken seriously.
ROBINSONYou know, in many cases, the EEOC investigates and conciliates cases with employers on its own, which means that trans people now have a federal agency that's actively seeking to address wrong doing against them in the workplace.
NNAMDIHoward's not a lawyer either, but if you live in this town, we all become lawyers by osmosis, there are so many of them here. Many note that this decision did not specifically include sexual orientation. It talks about, quoting here, "transgender and gender nonconforming individuals." What does that mean and do we know what the decision means for gay and lesbian employees?
ROSSWell, I think that it's very -- there's a lot of controversy about this right now, Kojo. There's some people who believe that this begins now to establish a precedent that could be used to provide safety. There are others who believe that that precedent is not secure. And if we look at, for example, what happened with Prop A in California, we know that these are issues that are often given and then taken away. And so the reality is -- I think we were talking before, Allyson said, you know, precedent does not equal policy. And I think that that's an important distinction.
ROSSBut I also want to point to something else which is that we're talking now about the legal distinctions of protection. But we know that a lot of what people experience in a workplace on a day-to-day basis have nothing to do with the legalities. There are subtle and implicit forms of bias that occur every day, even if people are legally protected. So we've got issues like for example how included is one in what's going on in the environment? And that includes both social and business inclusions. Do I come to you to let you know what's going on or do I conveniently or even unconsciously forget to include you?
ROSSHow trusting do I feel or can I feel about the environment if I'm not sure what people think and feel about me. And therefore how secure do I feel at work? What are the opportunities that are given to people both internally and externally? A lot of times what happens, as Allyson was talking about, is not so much the interface inside the organization. But if I've got -- if I'm a boss and I'm uncomfortable with the notion of somebody trans working for me, my tendency is to project that on my client. I'll be more sensitive to a concern that the client will have a reaction because of course I'm projecting my own reaction onto the expectation of the client.
ROSSExposure, is this person who I want front facing the external people in the organization? Once again, if I'm uncomfortable with it do I want Allyson, for example, being out front representing our organization because I've still got this ick thing going on internally? The kind of support I might give somebody and even things like exposure and proximity. How close do I want to be physically with somebody? Do I maintain this sort of weirdness in my physical space around a particular person because of the stuff that I've got going on? So all of these things, and probably dozens more that I haven't named, are part of it.
NNAMDIHere is Mike in Springfield, Va. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEHi. Good afternoon, Kojo and to all your guests. I feel somewhat inept in terms of this discussion because I pretty much understand gay and lesbian definitions and transsexual meaning that the process has been completed. But I don't understand what transgender means. And I -- is that -- does that mean that the person is in process towards deciding a gender or...
NNAMDIGlad you brought that up because I'm going to have it answered in a addition to an answer for an email we got from Darryl in Crozet, Va. who says "I first encountered gay folk in my late teens and lesbians a few years later. I'd like to think that I was open to these new lifestyles and after a few years of familiarization and thought I became fully supportive of full rights for these folks.
NNAMDIOn the other hand, bisexual and transgender are new to me and I haven't heard much in the way of argument that Bs and Ts deserve the same support that gays and lesbians earned over a lot of years. What problems do bisexuals have and why do they deserve my support? Same with transgender, why are they automatically elevated to the same stature as Gs and Ls? Understand I'm not hostile to any of these folks. Hope no one is offended, but the sudden inclusion of two new lifestyles is creating questions." I guess most people are more familiar with bisexual however than they are with transgender, Allyson.
ROBINSONRight. And hence my statement earlier of being about two decades behind the rest of sort of the broader community, right. I appreciate the question that Mike raises. You know, just what is transgender? What does it mean? Briefly, transgender is sort of an umbrella term that covers identities around gender that are different from what most people experience.
ROBINSONSo identities like mine where, you know, I knew from as long as I can remember that I'm a girl. And I couldn't figure out why the people around me seemed not to get that. They all seemed to expect different things of me. And furthermore I couldn't figure out, as time went on, why my body was developing the way that it was. It didn't feel right to me. It felt very, very wrong to me.
ROBINSONSo that -- you know, my -- the word transsexual is often used for people like me, people who have that experience and who make use of some kind of professional medical intervention, mental health intervention in order to make this transition process that is both social and also physical, it's a process that takes place with the help of doctors with my physical body. But transgender covers many other kinds of identities as well. For example, people who cross dress, people who experience the same kind of dysphoria, of discomfort with their assigned gender that I did. But who are able to manage and cope with that dysphoria, you know, by occasionally perhaps in safe spaces presenting their gender in a way that's more comfortable to them. Or...
NNAMDIIndeed in order for someone to be described as transgender, that person does not necessarily have to undergo any medical procedure at all.
ROBINSONThat's absolutely true. And, in fact, we know from the research that we have done that most people don't make use of any kind of medical intervention. Now there's many possible reasons for that, not the least of which is that until very recently there was not a single off-the-shelf health insurance policy available in America that did not specifically exclude transition related care for people diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
ROBINSONNow that's changing much thanks to the work of my own project at the Human Rights Campaign in our Corporate Equality Index. But that may be one reason why people don't. But another might just be that they don't feel they need that medical intervention in order to live whole healthy full lives. And that's really the goal here.
ROSSI think that there's -- Kojo, if I could just jump in for a second.
ROSSThere's something else here that lives in our language. You know, we know that there's a neurolinguistic link. The words that we use matter and, for example, when we use the term lifestyle to describe the experience of people coming out or identifying as either being LGBT or LGB or T, what we don't get is that lifestyle is a matter of behavior but it's not -- we're talking about something different here. We're talking about people's core orientation. And orientation is a function of being. And I often will say to straight people when have this conversation, you know, tell me when you chose to be heterosexual, you know.
ROSSI mean, most of us do not think of a time, or cannot think of a time that we chose to be heterosexual, first because we didn't choose it. We were oriented towards our heterosexuality. We were oriented towards being attracted to people of the opposite gender. Now, that orientation may have occurred, and probably did occur for almost everybody, long before there was any behavior associated with that. So there's no lifestyle associated with that orientation. It was just our way of being, our way of relating to the world.
ROSSAnd that's a very important distinction, because inside of the conversation of lifestyle and behavior, there's clearly a choice. Allyson could continue to have lived as a man externally and had those feelings inside of her. That behavior is distinct from the feelings.
NNAMDILet's go to Katie in Woodbine, Md. Katie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATIEHi guys. Thanks for having me a part of the conversation. I just wanted to speak to the points that both Allyson and Howard have made, which have been really incredible. I do agree that transgendered issues are about two decades behind LGB issues. From the perspective that I take, I am currently a student -- a graduate student. I'm going to school to become a licensed counselor, and I have always struggled with the fact that gender identity disorders exist in this sense, and you know, the fact that they removed homosexuality from the diagnostic and statistical manual decades ago just goes to prove that point even further.
KATIEAnd this coming May, anybody in the field of psychology knows that this upcoming May there's a new DSM coming out, and...
NNAMDIWhat's a DSM?
KATIEThe Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychological Disorders.
NNAMDIYes, thank you.
KATIEAnd it is -- it still represents that archaic type of view point when it comes to transgendered individuals because this is still considered a disorder, and much to like what Howard was saying earlier, it's about looking at transgendered individuals as different or disordered or in some way impaired.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for sharing that with us. Are you indicating that when the new manual comes out, it will still refer to transgender people as having a disorder?
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for sharing that with us. Now, we've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on discrimination in the workplace as it effects lesbian, gays, bisexual, or transgender people in particular. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Howard Ross. He's a diversity consultant and the principle of Cook Ross, and Allyson Robinson, deputy director for employee programs with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation Workplace Project. We're talking about employment discrimination, particularly as it effects people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and taking your calls at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIOne more definition, please. We got an email from Lorraine who says, "There's a B in LGBT. The majority of those identifying as LGBT, especially younger and of color who identify as bi or pan or fluid. Please do not erase us. Thanks."
NNAMDII am unfamiliar with the phrases pan and fluid. Can you please explain?
ROBINSONI think I can, and I would want to take the opportunity I suppose, Kojo, although I don't think I've ever done this in a media context before, to come out a bit on my own in that I identify as bisexual. So it's worth saying that there's a little bit more diversity perhaps represented here today than had previously been imagined. Pansexual indicating an attraction to pan, literally all, to all genders, which I like because it sort of -- it implicitly acknowledges that there really are more than two, right?
NNAMDIAnd fluid suggests changing.
ROBINSONSure. And I think that that is possible. You know, one of the things about our sexual orientation is just as we said, it's inherent. I wouldn't want to imply anywhere that it is -- that's malleable, right? That it can be changed for example with reparative therapy. But we, you know, we do grow in our understanding of ourselves over time, and of our orientation, you know. Prior to, you know, coming to grips with my own gender identity, I identified as an exclusively straight man.
ROBINSONIt was only after I had -- I dealt with the deeper issues of my gender that I was able to then recognize in myself that I'm bisexual and really always have been.
NNAMDIHoward, we got an email from Macaulay (sp?) in Burke, Va. "What can straight people, that is ordinary people who are not politicians, do to make the workplace more fair and hospitable to LGBTQ people?"
ROSSOh, I think it's such a great question, and I really am very appreciative of Macaulay asking it, because I was hoping that we would have a chance to talk about what being an ally really is, and even though I sometimes bristle at the term ally as if those people over there need our help. That's not really what it's about. It's -- I think from my standpoint, it comes from a belief that everybody benefits when we have workplaces in which everybody is valued and people are included, and we can work together effectively and nobody is suffering because being in the workplace is a danger place for them.
ROSSSo there are a number of things that we can do. One of the things that we can do that's most important is to be very outspoken about our allyship. To be somebody who's willing to say look, here's the stand that I take, and I'm going to stand for everybody here having an equal opportunity, and I'm available to support anybody in doing that. I'm available for people to come to me with requests for that support, and I'm also going to speak out when I see something happen that's counter to that.
ROSSOne of the things that keeps in place our workplace cultures in which people are discriminated against are the sort of secret conversations that occur, the secret jokes that occur between straight people about gay people that they would never say, in the same sense as people's racial jokes are not spoken usually in front of somebody of another race, and then when we -- those of who are allies are in those kinds of environments that say, look, I know that there's nobody here who's gay, but that -- for example, but that comment is still unacceptable to me in the workplace, and to really take a stand for doing those kinds of things.
ROSSAnd I think something else is to learn as much as we can, to open up the dialogue. You know, Allyson was kind enough to come, for example, and meet with my staff and, you know, in her inhabitable open style just answered any questions that people had. We are deeply committed to this issue, but it doesn't mean we understand the issue, and out of conversations like that we're much more able to deal with people who are still resistant to it.
ROSSAnd finally, one last thing is, I think we can still bring a measure of compassion to people who in their lack of understanding and fear about these issues show up as resistance. It doesn't mean they're bad people necessarily. We are raised in a culture which teaches us to be bigoted around this issue, and it takes effort to break out of that.
NNAMDIGot a lot of callers on the line.
ROSSSorry about that.
NNAMDII'll start with Dana Byer in Washington D.C. Hi Dana, how are you doing?
DANAHi Kojo. It's good to speak with you again. It's been a while.
NNAMDINice -- it has been a while since you were a guest on this broadcast as a matter of fact.
NNAMDIProbably with Howard too, weren't you?
ROSSNo. I don't think so.
NNAMDINo. Howard was not there.
ROSSBut I have read some of Dana's work, so thanks for calling.
NNAMDIDana, thanks for calling. Go ahead, please.
DANAOh, you're very welcome. I wanted to thank Allyson and Howard. I think they've done a superb job at explaining all of these issues. The 11th Circuit and the EEOC decisions, which are truly landmark decisions, changing the legal landscape for all trans and gender non-conforming persons 180 degrees. But of course implementation is the next step. That takes time and education and changing the culture can take several more decades. But the pace of change has accelerated greatly over the past ten years.
DANABut I'm calling specifically to comment on a comment that a recent caller made that the DSM V, the new iteration of the psychiatrist's bible...
DANA...which will be completed at year end, still pathologies transgender people. In my opinion, and I was involved in rewriting that, it does not. Now, there are those who will say that simply by having a category which will be called gender dysphoria in the DSM, that that still pathologizes us, and to some degree it does. But what is changes is, we're no longer called disordered, which means we no longer have a mental illness, and those people who don't feel dysphoric, who aren't uncomfortable with who they are, who just go about their lives and change their lives with medical treatment or surgical treatment or not, they no longer have to go in and claim that they are uncomfortable with their gender.
DANASo that whole class of people, many of whom Allyson was referring to, who don't have medical or surgical care either because they don't want it, they can't afford it, maybe it's medically contraindicated, there are a whole host of reasons why people don't do that. They will no longer be classified as having a mental illness, and those people who've actually been classified under gender dysphoria for insurance purposes oftentimes simply to get reimbursement, will then have an escape clause that once they're treated and living in their reassigned genders, they will no longer be considered to having a mental illness of any sort whatsoever.
DANASo this is a huge step. It's not the final step of removing it completely, but it's a huge step in moving forward.
NNAMDIDana Byer, thank you for sharing that clarification with us, and Dana mentioned the 11th Circuit Court decision last December. That was another big case with national repercussions. It was a case of a transgender woman who was fired. That case made transgender persons a protected class under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Allyson, can you talk a little bit about the significance of that case?
ROBINSONSure, Kojo. Yeah. This decision -- the case was Glenn v. Brumby - was a very important decision for transgender people. It was, you know, it was really -- it's really just one and kind of the most recent in a series of court cases that have found that discrimination against people on the basis of their gender identity, and on the basis of their gender expression really, is illegal. That it is sex discrimination either under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, or in the case of Glenn v. Brumby, under the 14th Amendment.
ROBINSONIt's important to note though that Howard -- Howard kind of touched on this a moment ago, that these court cases, and these various districts, you know, Glenn v. Brumby was the 11 district, which covers Alabama, Florida, Georgia, right, that these cases, while they establish precedent, are not the same as -- they do not carry the same weight as, you know, true positive legal protections. The fact is that there are other courts in other circuits who have set precedents that go in precisely the opposite and even on the other side of the EEOC decision that we talked about in the last segment, it's unclear how federal courts will continue to decide on these issues.
NNAMDIA lot of rights activists would like to see Congress pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, which has been pending in Congress since 1994. What difference do you think that would make for LBGT people in the workplace given the other two cases we talked about?
ROBINSONWell, that's very true, and certainly my organization, the Human Rights Campaign, is one of those that believes that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, is critically important to be able to provide solid clear protections for all members of the LGBT community. I mean, that's one piece of this that we haven't really touched on, that all of these precedents, and the EEOC decision, you know, they have showed that transgender people enjoy a certain amount of protection.
ROBINSONThey have continued to show that sexual orientation is not a protected characteristic under either of these statutes. So, you know, while there are certain protections that are afforded to trans people in this context, gay and lesbian and bisexual people are clearly not protected at this point.
ROSSYeah. Kojo, the -- I think that it's important -- this all fits into sort of a web of complexity, and in the same sense if we remember during Civil Rights days, the Civil Rights laws were passed long before they were actually in action. I mean, it took us 11 years to get from Brown v. Board of Education to true school desegregation in a broad sense in our society, and I think this is very similar. We can pass these laws, but the experience of people is going to continue to be affected by how much support there is.
ROSSAnd so when things happen that nudge it in that direction, it can be significant. President Obama's statement, obviously, about marriage equality had a huge impact on society. We're beginning to see, particularly for example at the black churches that there was a lessening of resistance that came from some of those structures as a result of the president's statement. It takes something that is seen as sort of a quote "fringe point of view" and moves it more into the mainstream.
ROSSEllen DeGeneres was another example of that. And so, again, it just reinforces the importance of everybody's voice mattering. When somebody stands up in the work place and says, you know, I'm straight, I'm -- you know, I'm not LGBT and yet I support this, and I want everybody to know I support equality for all people here, and if I'm a leader, and I'm in a position to enforce that through my behavior, that makes a difference.
ROSSAnd when we shift the workplace, one of the reasons I've chosen to do most of my work in the workplace is because it's one of the few places in our society where the people we interact with is largely involuntary. And so we're put -- so Allyson and I may be placed in seats next to each other, all of sudden we need to deal with each other. So in the workplace, we have a huge ability to make an impact in this.
NNAMDIHere's Arnie in Potomac, Md. Arnie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ARNIEThank you, Kojo. Long-time listener, first-time caller. I know you're running out of time, so maybe we should have another program like this, but I wanted to comment that I'm a Navy veteran, I'm a law enforcement retired person, I've been a hospitality consultant, and I'm currently involved in an MBA program on ethical marketing and sustainability. My comments would be just as there are no atheists in a foxhole so they say, there are no --prejudices tend to disappear when they join your family, be they -- be them black, gay, or Jewish.
ARNIEThe second comment is, I haven't heard any discussion about the XY XYY chromosome, and the third comment, nature versus nurture, or environment and its effects. And my last comment...
NNAMDII've penciled in six shows so far. Go ahead.
ARNIEWell, I was trying to get them all out in a hurry. I've also been involved in the EEOC suit where I was discriminated against based on religion and physical ability. However, having run restaurants that had gay staff, dealt with many, many gay bars, and some of my best friends of homosexual, that -- that's...
NNAMDII'm afraid we're just about out of time because I know there's someone here who wants to give a shout out to Allyson. Welcome Judith (word?) . You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JUDITHHello. Hi, thanks. Yeah. I'm president of one of the local transgender support groups here in the D.C. area. Hi Allyson. We've met before.
ROBINSONHey, we have. Judith, it's great to hear you, thank you.
JUDITHAnd thank you for being on Kojo's show there. You know, yeah, you are running out of time, so I think one thing that -- we're actually talking about this at my workplace which shall go unmentioned.
NNAMDIYou've got ten seconds.
JUDITHPut up rainbow stickers in your office to let people know that it's a safe place to come and talk.
NNAMDIThank you very much for that suggestion, and Allyson appreciates the shout out. Allyson Robinson is the deputy director for employee programs with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation Workplace Project. Allyson, thank you so much for joining us.
ROBINSONWhat a pleasure, Kojo. Thank you.
NNAMDIAnd a shout out for the Truman Show. Your son Truman is also visiting here with us today.
ROBINSONThat's right, in the control room.
NNAMDIHoward Ross is a diversity consultant and the principle of Cook Ross. Howard, always a pleasure.
ROSSKojo, it's been great. Thanks so much.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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