Friday, October 23, 2009

We Need More Executive Transvestites

“Cause if you're a transvestite, you're actually a male tomboy, that's where the sexuality is. Yeah, it's not drag queen, no; gay men have got that covered. This is male tomboy, and people do get that mixed up, they put transvestite there - no no no no! Little bit of a crowbar separation, thank you! And gay men, I think, would agree. It's male lesbian, that's really where it is, ok? Because… it's true! ‘Cause most transvestites fancy girls, fancy women. So that's where it is.” - Eddie Izzard, Dressed to Kill

The Short of It
  • Congress just passed a bill to extend hate crimes protection to the LGBT community.
  • Well, it's about time.
  • The statistics are shameful.
  • What are you doing as an association community to help your LGBT members?
  • Remember, cessation of open hostility does not acceptance make.
  • And applying "don't ask, don't tell" to the board room isn't the solution.
  • You have a role to play in the betterment of society for all.
The Long of It

Not all cross-dressers are gay.

Some of you don't know that, so I'll just let that sink in for a moment.

Now that the shock has worn off, let's get down to business. (I've already lost some of you but I am hoping the rest of you stay with me on this one).

The term LGBT refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.  Eddie Izzard, whose intellectually genius as well as hysterically funny clips are below, is an open transvestite. We certainly see a lot of people in the entertainment industry who feel somewhat free to express themselves but I have yet to see a male association board member show up in a dress.

LGBT issues extend beyond sexual orientation particularly in the trans community. Many associations, who have just wrapped their heads around gay and lesbian, are in need of developing a more sophisticated understanding of the rest of the spectrum. 

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Center for Transgender Equality have produced a great report called Opening the Door to the Inclusion of Transgender People which details nine steps organizations can take to ensure they are being fully inclusive.  This report also includes a number of helpful definitions.  I encourage all association personnel to read the report and then thoughtfully evaluate common practices in your associations to see if there are opportunities to improve service to your members.

Understanding and using the term "sexual orientation" is insufficient for the purposes of ensuring your association is inclusive.  There are multiple levels of gender identity and gender expression that are not absolute clues to orientation but are valid and important to acknowledge.  Many times the straight population will see gay and lesbian as valid, but not the rest.  In fact, many times bisexual people are excluded from both the straight and the gay community (straight for being "entirely too promiscuous" and gay for being "too weak to come all the way out of the closet" and "giving the authentic homosexual community a bad name").  Good grief Charlie Brown. 

Not everyone wants to be out of the closet.  But those who do need a safe environment to do so and your association could be key in facilitating that social authenticity.  Revelations of family relationships are accelerating due to social media applications and more and more people are seeking social networks that provide environments where they can truly be accepted for who they are.

Associations are also deeply involved in issues that affect the professional lives of their members and that extends to the workplace.  A recent study released by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation called "Degrees of Equality" on LGBT workplace issues has this to say:

"Nevertheless, significant numbers of LGBT employees continue to experience a negative workplace climate that appears to be unaffected by organizational policies and which varies by location, manager and work team. The majority of LGBT workers (51 percent) hide their LGBT identity to most at work, the simplest indication that more work needs to be done to translate inclusive policies into an inclusive climate. Hiding one’s LGBT identity is even more pronounced among younger workers. Only 5 percent of LGBT employees ages 18 to 24 say they are totally open at work, compared to more than 20 percent in older age cohorts."

Your members are on the job in these workplaces.  How are you helping? It shouldn't be just the LGBT community advocating for itself.  The entire association community needs to put some skin the game in order to affect change on a larger scale.

Too often, I see associations taking a couple of different approaches with issues that affect the LGBT community within their memberships:
  • Ignore the population.
  • Modify the mission, vision and values to include the term, "sexual orientation," and leave it at that.  
  • Adopt a "don't ask, don't tell"-esque position and edit social conversation appropriately
  • Allow the one token gay or lesbian board member to bring their partner to the annual dinner and congratulate themselves on their maturity.
  • Or in a particularly deft maneuver of rationalization, assume that the distinct lack of conversation means it's a non-issue and has been resolved.
I submit to you that these issues have not been resolved and the silence is deafening. Yesterday, Congress passed an incredibly important expansion of current law  to include crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability which now goes to our President for his signature.  It's 20-freaking-09.  I rest my case.

Here are some key steps you can take to ensure your association is truly engaged in these important conversations.
  • Educate your board, staff and volunteer leaderships on issues that affect the LGBT community.
  • Take a look at your mission, vision and values and ensure that "diversity" statements include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
  • Conduct, publish and distribute research on LGBT issues in the trades and professions you represent.
  • Ensure your membership applications, solicitations and registration forms are gender nuetral and use terms like "additional guest" instead of "spouse."
  • Promote inclusion in small ways at events like providing fun badge ribbons that say, "I'm Out and Proud" or something similar for those who would like to wear them.
  • Actively advertise that you are seeking LGBT volunteers and ask them what the association could do to be more inclusionary.
  • Respect those members who choose to be quietly "out" and who do not fully engage in the conversations.
Remember, promoting an inclusionary atmosphere does not mean that everyone who is in will come out.  This is all about acceptance of those who are and respecting the privacy of those who aren't.  Eddie Izzard does not always perform in his female form and when asked about that (and forgive me, I am paraphrasing badly) he said, "All that time I had to fight for the right to perform in a dress and now I have to fight for the right not to."

Freedom of expression.  Running, jumping, climbing trees and putting on make-up while you are up there.  That's where it is.


  1. Great post!

    While my association has a number of gay board members, I doubt we will see a transvestite ever. With our profession being early childhood care and education, transvestites would probably be very far back in the closet (with my old prom dresses...hell, IN my old prom dresses) if present at all.

    I am quite proud of my association for their commitment to diversity issues of all stripes, colors and sizes. But, as far as we have come, there is more to do....I'm up for it!

  2. Thanks for the comment Sandra!

    I appreciate your commitment to the issue. I am proud of your association board as well and they are well known for their sincere efforts in the arena of diversity of all types.


  3. The sad thing is that the association I work for (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) is actually great about recognizing and encouraging diversity; however, some of the members are horrible about it. What do I mean by horrible? Here's an example of just one of many letters to the editor of one of our publications calling us out for having an "agenda" for stuff like having a gay and lesbian tour during one of our annual meetings:

    Depressing, huh?

  4. Maggie - sorry it took me a while to get back to this, I've been slammed lately.

    I can't help but wonder why the majority gets to claim "the way it is" and the minority is left with "having an agenda." Quite frankly, you don't need to have an agenda if you are already mainstream.

    Thanks for sharing....



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