Transgender people need to be treated with dignity and respect at work. But our rights should not be allowed to ride roughshod over the rights of others. Yet it’s an unfortunate reality that, in the quest for inclusion, some workplace policies do just that – even in the heart of Whitehall.
The Cabinet Office’s ‘Toolkit‘ to support transitioning at work is astonishingly forthright when it addresses the issue of staff toilets:
‘It is assumed that the transitioning employee knows which facilities are the best match for their gender identity. Therefore, the employee should use the facilities closest aligned to their affirmed gender from their first day presenting in it.’Cabinet Office Toolkit: Supporting Transitioning at Work
Everyone else, it seems, is expected to like it, lump it, or go somewhere else. If other employees object, managers are told to explain that using the correct facilities forms an important part of gender transition:
‘If other employees are uncomfortable with this, they should consider using any available alternative facilities.’Cabinet Office Toolkit: Supporting Transitioning at Work
If the objections are raised ‘in an appropriate manner’, that is. Otherwise the book may get thrown at them:
‘If objections are raised inappropriately, you may need to consider action under the bullying, harassment and discrimination policy.’Cabinet Office Toolkit: Supporting Transitioning at Work
To be fair on the Cabinet Office, statements like these are commonplace in workplace documents. Those reading and harrumphing might want to contact their own HR department and ask for a copy of their office policy. It may be an eye-opener. The language may differ but the message is often much the same. Wiltshire council, for example, states that:
‘Transgender employees are entitled to use the toilets and changing facilities in accordance with the full time gender which they present in their new gender role. If other employees object to this, managers should consider steps to raise general awareness and/or ask the employees who object to use alternative facilities.’Wiltshire Council
On campus, the story is much the same. Imperial College London is at pains to make it clear that transition is a social process:
‘As soon as a staff member is living in the gender with which they identify, even if they have not undergone or do not intend to undergo medical or surgical procedures, they are entitled to have access to the facilities of their gender. This includes toilets and changing rooms.’Imperial College London
Yet ultimately these policies – which are a nightmare for managers and HR departments to deal with – don’t help anyone, least of all trans people. They also do little to help employees who want to support a colleague who is transitioning, but do not feeling comfortable about sharing sex-segregated spaces with them.
I transitioned at work ten years ago. In those days, policy development was in its infancy. Stonewall had yet to launch its Vision for Change and announce that it was ‘extending its remit to campaign for trans equality.’ Transgender issues were rarely discussed in the news; advice was much harder to find. Talking to other people transitioning at the time, it seemed that while some employers were genuinely supportive of their transgender staff, others were not. There was a sense of muddling through. We do not want to go back there; we all need good policy. But the naïve and thoughtless references to toilets and changing rooms helps nobody.
We segregate by sex for good reasons. Safety is one of them; dignity and respect is also vital. This has been forgotten or perhaps ignored by too many people. We must not ask women to budge up and make room for male people who are transitioning. It’s not fair, and it is not right. Workplaces should provide additional safe-and-secure individual facilities for anyone who does not wish to share communal arrangements with their own sex.
It’s a big ask to provide them for everyone who might want them, of course, so this is a situation where trans people should be treated more favourably and given priority. But one thing is vital: women should not lose out. Because when everyone can feel secure, tensions can dissipate, and we can all get on with our lives in peace.
Debbie Hayton is a teacher and journalist.