Transgender people like me deserve more from employers
I am transgender. That means I am not your typical girl or boy.
The concept of non-binary gender or transgender can be difficult to grasp for those who do not identify as such, living as we do in a society structured on a binary premise.
I find it useful to compare the experience of being transgender to motion sickness, which I’m sure you have suffered at some point.
You will know the misery and helplessness of seasickness. You are forced to endure it: you have no control over the motion and you cannot step off the boat. You can hope it will take a course that will ease your discomfort, but you remain at the mercy of the sea.
For me, living for so long as the “boy” I was labelled at birth felt much like being seasick.
It made me unwell in a way that prevented me from being myself, or recognising and achieving my potential.
There was a constant fear that discovery would unleash a tempest that would make life unbearable. Even without a tempest, there were times when not living felt like the only way to achieve peace. The oblivion of sleep was a temporary cure, when it wasn’t disturbed by anxiety.
But those of you who know seasickness will also know the feeling of relief and of wellness when you finally reach land. This is what I’ve experienced since living as a woman.
Do not presume that I am saying being transgender is a sickness. Not at all. The sickness is caused by a society that refuses to acknowledge the true human condition is diverse.
This is why Countdown’s recent announcement of its policy to support workers who are transgender is so important - perhaps more so than the company even realises.
All employers should have introduced policies concerning human and equal rights in line with legislative requirements. However, many have been slow, even reluctant, to implement meaningful change.
One of the biggest barriers is management's fear of upsetting its workforce; this has certainly been my experience since coming out.
One prospective employer told me he didn’t think his customers were ready for someone like me. Another appeared keen to take me on, but when things dragged on with no formal job offer he told me he was struggling to find people who would work with me. In the end he stopped communicating completely.
Employers are unwilling to embrace diversity and demonstrate the courage and commitment needed to bring about change. The prevailing attitude is one of laziness and cowardice; leaders in our communities neglect the needs of minority groups, hoping they will just be gradually assimilated - or else silenced and stamped out.
Countdown is breaking away from this. It has declared its facilities a safe harbour for any person who feels marginalised, with a focus on people who identify as transgender or non-binary. The announcement may have been intended to make the company’s position known to its employees and customers, but I believe it has a far wider influence.
By making the announcement so publicly, it has hopefully provided other employers with the motivation to follow suit.
It has also challenged the binary paradigm and made it clear that when you enter a Countdown facility, this no longer exists. Its stance says: “This is a place for everyone. You need to change your narrative and expand it to include people you may not otherwise notice or engage with.”
Countdown has publicly shown what it means to be an Equal Employment Opportunities employer. This is a strong and inspiring declaration of hope for many people still facing the daily trauma of existing.
I challenge our community leaders to emulate Countdown and declare their commitment to diversity and equality in their workplaces, organisations and in the provision of services.
This isn’t just about how employers treat their staff, but about the principles of how organisations function. More leaders need to stand up and announce their places safe havens for all people - it is not enough for legislation to tell us they are.
- Stuff Nation