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Employers Enacting Transgender Protection Policies, But Threats Persist 

Transgender people face multiple threats on various fronts even as the number of employers enacting policies to protect these workers has exploded in recent years.

lgbtq flag 1184117 1280 websiteThe Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2022 corporate equality index notes that 97% of employers laid out safeguards for nonbinary and transgender employees, Society for Human Resource Management reports. That compares with just 5% of companies in the HRC’s 2002 corporate equality index that had such policies. 

“This year's CEI was yet another record year for companies moving toward greater inclusion for their transgender workers," says Jay Brown, the HRC's senior vice president of programs, research and training. “These are positive steps toward fuller inclusion.”

The HRC’s annual report also finds that more than 660 big companies have embraced gender-transition guidelines to incorporate the most effective inclusion practices for their managers and teams to follow. Among Fortune 500 employers, about 66% tout transgender-inclusive health care benefits and 22-times more businesses provide transgender-inclusive health insurance compared with 2009.

Despite the HRC’s finding about the huge growth in employers adopting transgender-friendly policies in the workplace, this population has been facing relentless attacks in a hostile political environment . This year alone there have been a record 537 anti-trans bills introduced in 49 states, with 64 of these passing and 376 still active. Nearly 100 of these bills have failed, according to the Trans Legislation Tracker

These bill hit the transgender population on multiple fronts by aiming to deny them healthcare, education, and legal benefits. Of the 64 bills that have passed, 49 have become law and 15 haven’t been vetoed or signed yet. Kansas has been among the states that has most aggressively gone after its transgender residents and this has drawn strong concerns among the business community, KMUW reports. As of July 1, Kansas residents who identify as transgender, about 2% of the population, will be recognized under a new “women’s bill of rights,” which will prohibit legal recognition of their gender identity and require them to use public facilities based on the sex they were assigned at birth.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has warned that the new law could harm the state’s economy as it struggles to entice employers and deals with severe shortages of critical workers, particularly in health care and education. “Companies have made it clear that they are not interested in doing business with states that discriminate against workers and their families,” Kelly said in a statement. While she vetoed the “women’s bill of rights” and other bills, Republicans were able to override her veto late last month.

A group supporting the bill disputed critics. “They cannot point to a single instance where a an employer pulled out of a state because of one of these bills,” says Brittany Jones, director of policy and engagement for Kansas Family Voice. “It’s a made-up fallacy.”

The Human Rights Campaign, however, points to more than 300 businesses that have signed onto the Business Statement Opposing Anti-LGBTQ State Legislation, noting they view anti-LGBTQ legislation as wrong. Amazon, Apple, Citigroup, Comcast NBCUniversal and Facebook are some of the companies that have signed on.

The Kansas law will only hurt local employers at a time when they are struggling to retain and attract talent, says Suzanne Wheeler, president of LGBT Mid-America Chamber of Commerce. “We hear from a lot of our partners that they’re struggling for workers,” she said. “Our Legislature keeps doing things to chase workers away from our state.”

Wheeler, who is a transgender women, also says such laws effectively tells citizens of Kansas “that they are less--that they no longer exist.”

Madison Butler, DE&I and culture consultant and chief experience officer at cannabis glassware company GRAV, tells HR Brew that businesses need to go beyond acknowledging trans employees within their companies, and make clear to them that “they are allowed to exist as whoever they need to be, day in and day out.”

Butler notes that HR often gives into the “paradox of tolerance,” by allowing of various arguments to be made, but “there’s a big difference between holding a harmful view and [something] being your identity.” She also urges HR leaders not write 'no tolerance' policies if they are going to let them languish in their handbooks “where they go to die.”

“We never actually enforce them, which is actually more dangerous because now the person who was causing the harm can say, ‘Well, obviously, I haven’t caused harm. Look at this policy we have,’” Butler says. “‘I wasn’t held accountable, I wasn’t written up, I wasn’t fired, so that harm must have never existed.’”

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