Q&A from Supporting Trans Library Employees, Part 3
Updated: Jun 18, 2020
Q&A, Part 1 (terminology and pronouns, resources, legal issues)
Q&A, Part 2 (names and such, trainings)
Q&A, Part 3 (employee support, management/HR/system buy-in)
Q&A, Part 4 (employee and patron interactions)
Q: Is the main idea w/inclusivity, especially regarding trans inclusivity, to have as little of the pressure be on the person who is not gender normative? To not be pointing out they are not a "typical" fe/male/binary, etc, which would be why you wouldn't be asking them about their transition experience?
A: This is another of those questions that everyone will probably have a different answer to. For me, the goal is that nobody will face additional levels of difficulty or stress because of their gender. If you’re tempted to ask a question or treat someone a certain way only after you have learned that they’re trans, that’s not a good sign. Also remember that you cannot (and should not try to) tell someone’s gender by how they look, sound, or act. Plenty of cis women get told to leave restrooms because they don’t present in traditionally feminine ways. Cisnormativity is hardest on trans people, but imposing gender roles can be harmful for everyone.
Q: Do you have any recommendations for how to handle students who begin to transition while they are student workers in the library?
A: As with other employees, put systems in place that remove difficulties regardless of whether you think you have any trans students: all-gender restrooms, systems that don’t use legal names, and optional pronoun buttons, to name a few. Don’t expect or force them to come out to you or anyone else. Demonstrate that you will be understanding if they do want to; this can be as simple as wearing a pronoun button yourself, doing Safe Zone training and posting the placard on your door, or verbally sharing your own pronouns in introductions (though of course you should not feel pressured to do this if you prefer not to). With students, be particularly aware that they may not be out to everyone in their lives, especially family. For example, if you meet their parents and they don’t use the same name or pronouns, do not correct them unless you are sure the student wants you to, as this can out them and potentially put them in a dangerous situation. They might also not be out to all professors or other students. If you have a relationship where this makes sense, you can ask them privately if they want you to correct other people if you hear them using the wrong name or pronouns. You can also share information about any campus or local resources that might be useful.
Q: The pronouns and name are so important now that some library staff are working remotely. What else should we be mindful as work transitions to remote environments?
A: I think that remote work actually removes a lot of day-to-day stresses for some trans employees (no worries about having to use a certain restroom, much less pressure to present in certain ways). There are probably things I haven’t thought of, but the main one really is the name, as there’s so much more interaction where that is all others will see. Look into whatever tools you are using (Slack, email, Zoom, etc.) and make sure everyone has access to clear instructions on how to control what name others see; if there is an option to add pronouns, give examples of that too. One thing to be aware of is that employees who want to come out may have trouble figuring out how to do so in a remote work environment; the option to tell coworkers informally may no longer exist, and scheduling a call specifically for that may feel awkward.
Note: I’m not a manager or an HR specialist, so the real answer to most of these questions is “I have no idea.” I’ve attempted to give some potentially useful suggestions, but please take them with plenty of salt. If you have better/more realistic answers, I'd love to hear them.
Q: Do you have tips for management that says they would ordinarily make these efforts but might use COVID-19 reopening concerns and budget cuts as an excuse to put this off indefinitely?
A: Point out that the issues haven’t gone away. If people are working from home and looking for things to do, you may be able to suggest free resources for professional development (start a reading/discussion group on trans inclusion, or watch webinars and talk about them after). There are also probably places that are legitimately overwhelmed, especially if they are forced to reopen, so use your judgment regarding what is reasonable to push for.
Q: Do you have any tips/advice for libraries that don't have an HR department?
A: Even if there isn’t a full-time HR staff, that work must be getting done by someone. Find out who and go from there. Alternately, bring up your concerns to a manager or someone else who would know where to take them.
Q: I am the Token Queer at my library-- one of the only ones who watches webinars like this, educates themselves on these issues, actively advocates for lgbtqia+-inclusive practices, etc. Any advice for encouraging allies to step up in the quest to get administrative buy-in/action?
A: I've gotten some good results by starting a voluntary employee group (formal or informal) for learning about and discussing these issues. It gives people a place to start if they're interested but don't have any background knowledge, and part of the discussion can be about workplace initiatives. It always helps to have a group request something, and a voluntary group can be a good start because it demonstrates that employees are interested in the topic (and it gives you and others a way to do something instead of getting frustrated waiting for administrative action).
Q: Do you have suggestions on how to get buy-in from administration to support mandatory (vs voluntary) trans inclusion training?
A: I don’t know of a single library that does this, unfortunately, but I wish it were more common. My best suggestion is to make it a group proposal, ideally through an EDI committee or some such if you have one. If not, talk to your coworkers and work together so that the suggestion isn’t just coming from one person. Look for statistics and professional guidelines to support the proposal to demonstrate its relevance to your work. If you think that whoever has the power to implement such a training doesn’t know where to start, suggest options (potential trainers, free resources, etc.) so they know that it is feasible.
Q: How do I get my library system - a large public library system - to be more trans inclusive as an employer and to its patrons?
A: This is such a big question that I’m not going to try to answer it here. Tell them to read my book?
Q: For smaller organizations that do not have an HR or IT department, what are your recommendations for how some of the issues you discussed could be handled? (i.e. changing name of use, etc.)
A: Presumably there is somebody who handles these issues, even if they aren’t formally titled the same way. If it doesn’t make sense to go through the individual (or if you don’t know who that is), try bringing the concern to your manager or whatever committee makes the most sense; they may be able to decide the best approach and delegate appropriately. It’s perfectly reasonable for you to raise an issue without knowing how it can be resolved. Be prepared for it to take a while, though. Especially with something like name systems, which may be contracted out, the best your employer may be able to do is submit a request to the external company. This is very much worth doing, but the changes may not happen instantly. Meanwhile, think about short-term approaches that you and your coworkers can do.