Wednesday • 2014.07.30
That Feeling When your Employer Includes and Accepts You
This post originally appeared in the Klick Culture & Engagement Blog.
As a web developer, I don’t meet directly with the bigwigs very often, but if I had to guess before joining Klick how often that would be, I would have said “never.” However, Klick’s senior partners live by the philosophy that every employee might offer valuable ideas and insights to help drive the company forward as it grows. It’s a strategy which pays off well in combination with Klick’s focus on hiring the best of the best.
So on a Friday afternoon in May, I found myself at a meeting with (CEO of Klick Health) Leerom Segal, and with Klick’s Culture and Engagement Team… along with 15 colleagues from departments across the company. They held multiple meetings throughout the week, to cover everyone working at Klick.
We went back and forth across the table, in freeform fashion, throwing out suggestions. “We could use more mobile test devices, iPhones and Androids. We spend a lot of time running around looking for them,” I offered. Lee pointed at me.
“Done,” he said, as Chelsea MacDonald (Director of Culture and Engagement) took notes. That was easy, I thought. “What about opportunities for culture and engagement?” He asked, meaning fun stuff: more events and activities Klick could set up for us to participate in.
Klick already does a lot of this sort of thing, so no suggestions came to mind at first. But it just so happened I was fresh from a meeting the previous evening for my “other job,” Team Lead for Trans* Pride at Pride Toronto (purely a labour of love). I thought to myself, it can’t hurt to ask…
Except, I was painfully aware of the possibility that it could hurt to ask.
In my previous job, I enjoyed a fantastic 5-year career of raises and promotions, from junior web designer to a department head with ten people reporting to me. But after I made the difficult transition from a male identity to a female one, suddenly my employer became much less impressed with the quality of my work, and I was fired six months later.
I was so happy with how I’d been treated at Klick so far (a level of decency and acceptance to which I had been previously unaccustomed), I didn’t really want to risk rocking the boat by hitting the Pride card too intensely: Right now, I’m the only Trans* person at Klick (that I know of). I was worried that if I demonstrated my Queer identity too loudly, others might begin to think of me as something other than how they already accepted me.
Blend in, or die… It’s a cruel, unwritten social contract that people like me need to follow, if we want to be able to continue eating and keep from being homeless. There are still parts of Canada where an employer can legally fire you just for being Trans*. Most people aren’t aware (because the news keeps pretty silent about it) that over one quarter of working-age Trans* people in Canada are unemployed, and that those who do find work are often severely underemployed. As a consequence, the majority of Trans* people live below the poverty line, all because of a lack of acceptance in the workplace.
This is a non-trivial problem (I’m perfectly qualified, yet I went unemployed for almost two years despite frequent interviews), and it’s a fear that we live with each day of our lives—because even if we do find a job that accepts us, we still know the majority of the market will be hostile if we ever need to go looking again. So even at a great company like Klick, my survival instinct was to err on the side of safety. Except, by this point I had begun to have faith in the good people I work with, and the difference that sets Klick apart.
Plus, I’ve never been good at staying quiet when I have something to say (I was accidentally raised as a boy). So I turned toward Leerom and I took a calculated risk.
“Well,” I began tentatively, “today happens to be the deadline for registration if you want to have a contingent in the Pride Parade for WorldPride,” I offered. I braced myself for a polite rejection, some comment about professionalism and appropriateness, maybe coupled with a summary judgement that not enough people at Klick would be interested. I steeled myself to maintain my professional demeanour if that rejection came along with a distasteful wince from the man on top. But, Lee just kept smiling. Matt Stewart on the other hand (Senior Engagement Advocate) nearly jumped out of his seat with excitement.
“Oh my god! I almost forgot about Pride!” he exclaimed.
“Yes! Thank you!” said Chelsea, typing furiously on her macbook.
“I think that’s a great idea,” said Lee. I was pleasantly stunned.
In the weeks that followed, Matt organized a Pride Committee, and Klick hosted weekly (catered) lunchtime planning meetings that were well attended by some of Klick’s most fabulous employees: Gay, Lesbian, and allies. With contributions from departments all over the company, including Culture, Strategy and Creative, our group rapidly evolved an entire marketing campaign for Klick’s participation in Pride: “Relentless Rise.”
Pride in Toronto was huge in 2014, because of WorldPride, which is like the Olympics or World Cup in that it moves around from city to city. WorldPride 2014 Toronto was the first one ever held in North America, and the first WorldPride to ever include a Trans* Pride March.
It was decided that, to celebrate this historic WorldPride, Relentless Rise would present a timeline of Queer history in the form of signs held by our marching contingent, and as a website where revellers could scroll through the timeline on their smartphone. The plan was to include notable achievements and historical events such as the 1981 Toronto Bathhouse Raids, which caused the riots that evolved into the Pride festival we know today. The campaign noted other achievements, such as the 1969 decriminalization of homosexuality, and Kathleen Wynne’s 2013 achievement as the first lesbian Premier in Canada. It ended with celebratory rainbow banners across an image of the planet Earth, captioned “2014: Toronto hosts WorldPride!”
The campaign was beautiful, and made me feel good about Klick. It was amazing (especially after my previous bad experience) to be seeing my company, my colleagues, throwing energy and resources so enthusiastically into Pride. But it was very, very Gay: a little too exclusively Gay…
For many, Pride is just a party and a good time. But by necessity, Pride means a lot more than that to me. I’m a fierce Trans* rights activist, and my people are still struggling to achieve a Relentless Rise of our own. Pride started out as a grass-roots political movement, standing up against oppression and adversity, demanding equal rights, respect, and fair treatment under the law. Gays and Lesbians are essentially mainstreamed in Canadian society today, and that is worthy of celebrating. But because Trans* people still have so far to go, it pains me to see Pride celebrations leaving out a key piece of the Queer equation: supporting the “T” in the “LGBT.”
To my dismay, the draft version of Relentless Rise had omitted any historic Trans* achievements—for two reasons. First, because unfortunately there just haven’t been that many yet… and second, because nobody else on the team was aware of what they were. So we discussed the importance of Toby’s Law, which in 2012 added Gender Identity and Expression to the provincial Human Rights Code, and then we added it to the timeline.
I also pointed out that while Gay and Lesbian people enjoyed the addition of sexual orientation into the federal Human Rights Act in 1996, Trans* people are still waiting for the addition of Gender Identity and Expression. And while homosexuality was removed by the American Psychiatric Organization from their list of mental disorders in 1973, Trans* people to this day are still facing diagnosis and pathologization of their core identities as a barrier to accessing the healthcare they need.
Our team’s challenge: how could we acknowledge and address these critical failures of our civilization, on a celebratory timeline of notable Queer achievements?
The final version of Klick’s Relentless Rise timeline does not end with the rainbow banners and the planet Earth celebrating WorldPride. That’s in there, of course, in 2014. And celebrate we did. But just off to the right, a little bit into the future, the timeline features two additional entries, the years for which are indicated with question marks. The two entries call for federal Human Rights protections, and clinical depathologization of Trans* people.
The Relentless Rise continues.
After what we had done together, with enthusiasm and love, making Relentless Rise inclusive and supportive of me and Trans* people in general, I was incredibly proud to be a part of that team. We had an amazing time, marching down Yonge Street in colour-coordinated t-shirts from the stripes of the Rainbow flag, some decked out in balloon wings, others having water guns at the ready. Most of us finished marching the Parade with smiles, I also finished with tears in my eyes.
*I put this footnote here just to keep people from being confused. The asterisk in Trans* doesn’t actually represent a footnote (it’s for political reasons instead). The asterisk represents the inclusive nature of the Trans* umbrella term, which explicitly includes not only transgender and transsexual people, but also non-binary gender identities such as genderqueer, 2-spirited, bigender, agender, gender fluid, and others. Not that they weren’t included already. I just use the asterisk to make it abundantly clear that equality of gender identity is for everybody.