Updated: May 29, 2022
We spoke with five inspirational Queer Leaders to understand what it's like to navigate professional spaces as a transgender or nonbinary person.
The workplace can be an extremely challenging space for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+, but especially for those who identify as transgender or nonbinary. According to a recent YouGov survey, over half of trans and nonbinary people have felt they need to hide their identities at work, and over a third have received negative comments from coworkers about their gender identity.
We asked five trans and non-binary change-makers to share their lived experiences of professional spaces. Through insightful interviews, these LGBT+ professionals not only shed some light on the discrimination faced by the trans community; to educate and promote more trans-inclusion within organisations, but also highlight what helped them feel comfortable in their workplace.
Rico Jacob Chace, writer, activist and videographer, encountered so much homophobia at his former finance job that he developed PTSD. “It took two years to recover and I had to relearn how to read, write, and eat in a public setting. I lost my livelihood, my income, off the back of homophobia, but that could happen to anyone.”
The workplace is not only limiting for different gender identities, but also for any attempt at gender expression. Almost a third of nonbinary people and 18% of trans people don’t feel comfortable wearing work attire that fits their gender identity.
Jason Kwan, nonbinary songwriter and youth worker, recalls that when he started to dress in what he found comfortable, he received a lot of backlash. “I really had to fight for me to be able to wear what I wanted to, even though it does not affect my work or my ability at all. When I was able to wear a blouse and print trousers to work, I felt empowered to just be myself.”
It’s not just within professional settings that trans people face barriers; getting a new job in the first place can also be a disheartening and discriminatory process. For non-binary people like River Solace, a creative director living in London, “applying for jobs can be really difficult because there is no option to identify as non-binary, and that makes us feel like we're not always welcome in workspaces....Sometimes it's really difficult when I meet new coworkers. I have to come out again and again.”
Despite all the challenges, we are optimistic about changing the workplace to become more inclusive and accepting for LGBTQ+ workers. A positive experience with a coworker helped Alex Howell gain confidence to come out as trans at work. “Straight away he asked me what my pronouns were. It filled me with so much confidence because he knew of they/them pronouns and of transgender identities. It filled me with confidence that everyone else in the company would be as respectful.”
When it comes to making LGBTQ+ people feel seen, Eva Echo says that even the smallest changes can make a difference. “People can be an ally by speaking up, they can do things as simple as including pronouns in their bio, even sharing posts and information. But you can always go one step further and be active about it; put that change in place. It doesn't need to come from a trans or non-binary person."
With special thanks to JTI who kindly funded the production of this video.
WE CREATE SPACE have a tailored set of programmes dedicated to helping organisations become more inclusive for Queer Women, Non-Binary and Men in the workplace To learn more, check out our corporate solutions or contact us through email: email@example.com
About our contributors:
Jason is a queer nonbinary person from Hong Kong, living in East London. He's also a singer/songwriter and a youth worker at AKT, a charity supporting young LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness across the UK.
Rico is a trans man living in London. He is also a videographer, writer and vocal activist. As a board member of TransActual UK, he works to change UK legislation for non-binary equality and raise the Black Queer intersectionality question in all forums.
River Solace is a London-based nonbinary, autistic songwriter and poet. They use their own lived experience with mental health struggles and self-discovery to create music with a message. Their song ‘Paranoia’, an original piece about gender-based violence, was recently featured in the UN Women UK 'A Safe Space' Virtual Exhibition.
Alex currently works full-time for a homeless social care support charity. Before making a recent career change, Alex was previously a graduate trainee at a large consulting firm, working across Banking Risk consultancy, HR consultancy and Audit. He simultaneously worked with the firm’s LGBT-network, representing the firm at multiple LGBT recruitment events, and reviewed the firm’s policies regarding LGBT-inclusivity. Alex transitioned while at work, and learnt to juggle personal challenges and uncertainty, while maintaining workplace full-engagement.
Eva is a trans woman based in Birmingham. She is a writer, activist and currently a brand ambassador for the London Transgender clinic, a spokesperson for Gendered Intelligence, and founder of the #PassItOn campaign that encourages conversation around trans and nonbinary people’s image standards. She also sits on the Crown Prosecution Service’s hate crime panel for England and Wales.