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How gen Z is tackling transphobia in the workplace

By Mary Swine

Jan 9, 2020

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LGBTQI rights

Jan 9, 2020

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The first day of my new office job comes around. Swapping the extremities of dingey bars in Peckham for the windowless haunt in Whitechapel is a drastic change. Waking with the rest of London to head to my office gig, travelcard purchased in a new non-offensive t-shirt. I squeeze into the overground, ready and excited. A stable wage and hours is something I’ve daydreamed about while pouring lukewarm pints of Amstel in dark corners of SE15.

Stepping into the east London office, the prospect of what’s to come is almost overwhelming. This air of excitement and hope falters as the reality of my co-workers comes to light. The white Kanye West fan drops the n-word casually on a day to day basis and the greying Aussie specialises in homophobic slurs before lunch. Men old enough to know better talk to me about my ‘bush’ and sniffing other women’s knickers. This all seems to come to a humorous head when I’m asked if “LGBTQ is a type of sandwich?”

Generation Z, as we’re described, is the fully digital generation. Born from 1995 onwards, we’ve grown up alongside the housing crisis’, a recession, polarising politics—all of which were documented on our iPhones. Not only are we tech-savvy, we’re also queer as fuck. With only 48 per cent of generation Zers identifying as straight, this is the smallest percentage of heterosexuality ever recorded. This alone should be cause for celebration and triumph by our stonewall predecessors. However, we aren’t at the identity politics utopia, yet.

In 2019, research published on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia about sexual harassment in the workplace showed that 70 per cent of LGBTQ people endured harassment at work. My prediction is that as more young people from the community enter the workforce, these numbers will continue to increase. Arguably, this is the biggest cultural disparity between generations in the UK right now. Not everyone suffering from workplace harassment is queer and under 30, and not everyone harassing colleagues is straight and over 40. However, statistics indicate that these are the two groups most likely to be the victim and perpetrator of harassment. Identifying how workplace harassment has changed is instrumental in this discussion.

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Workplace harassment has evolved from macro to microaggressions. Whereas my mother has stories about men biting her arse by the photocopier, my incidents may share the same backdrop but are more subtle. With culture and expression accelerating rapidly, the disconnect between generations is understandable. It is the common consensus that one should not sink their teeth into a female coworker’s arse, but, at the same time, we are still learning collectively of the dangers of microaggressions. Although these microaggressions are not considered to be as outrightly offensive, they still perform in the same way as macroaggressions and isolate and hurt the group or individual they are targeted at.

To stop this kind of behaviour, we have to change collective education. The fear of the unknown is often at the heart of prejudice. Offering educational programmes could improve understanding and therefore reduce these workplace incidents.

Different organisations are helping to change wider society’s understanding of marginalised groups. One of these organisations is Gendered Intelligence (GI), a charity whose mission is to understand gender diversity. Established in 2008 as a community interest group, GI offers services including support services for young trans people under 21, while also delivering educational programmes to universities, schools and workplaces. Screen Shot spoke to the charity’s spokesperson about its workplace programmes.

“When it comes to the training we deliver for professional settings, it’s often someone from HR who reaches out to us,” they said. “Sometimes this is in response to someone in the organisation coming out as trans, or on the flip side, it could be in response to transphobia or lack of knowledge around trans matters. Often, ‘trans awareness training’ is seen simply as a necessary part of the fuller equality, diversity and inclusion package that workplaces are keener than ever to showcase.”

But has GI’s work impacted the mainstream working sector? It seems so, “We recently delivered our 1000th training session on trans awareness, which is a mega achievement for a grassroots organisation (now charity) that started as an art project 10 years ago.” As GI became bigger, so did the demand for factual, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth knowledge about trans people in the wider working sector. The feedback the organisation receives from clients shows that the impact it is having is deep and meaningful, and that people are leaving the sessions knowing a bit more about an often invisible or maligned part of society. “We know that this increased knowledge and visibility has made it easier for trans and non-binary people to come out at work, to be visible and respected for who they are, across the board. At the end of the day, if GI has made even one workplace more trans-friendly and enabled someone to come out and be accepted at work, the thousand sessions have been worth it,” explains the charity’s spokesperson.

With the training programmes GI offers, does it believe there should be steps towards making this mandatory in our society? “It’d be easy to rest on our laurels and think that transphobia will simply dissipate with time, but we’re seeing time and time again that hate crimes against trans and other LGBTQ+ people are on the rise in the UK. We need to be taking active steps towards ensuring that workplaces are following through on their legal duties to protect people from discrimination. We need to be particularly aware that trans people are often excluded from or ejected from the workplace simply for being trans, so we won’t stop our work until everyone is equal in this respect.” said GI’s spokesperson.

Positive change is happening through the help organisations like GI offer. Tackling transphobia in the workplace is just one issue among many, but GI’s work will continue to be a catalyst for change as it helps to bridge gaps between generations and make all aspects of work accessible. For now, patience is essential, but hopefully soon—not as thick a skin.