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Being Transgender in an Election Year

Transgender employees have historically experienced discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The upcoming election season could exacerbate those challenges, creating a more uncivil environment for this group of workers.

LGBTQ+ rights have become a focal point in U.S. politics in recent years, with debates and policy changes surrounding issues such as bathroom access, health care coverage, military service eligibility, and employment discrimination protections. These discussions often occur during election seasons, as candidates and parties express different views on how to address these issues.

State politicians introduced at least 510 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in 2023—a new record and nearly three times the number of such bills introduced in 2022. Many of these bills had workplace implications and prompted workers to leave the state—such as a Florida law limiting gender-affirming care, or Tennessee’s proposed bill that would ban drag performances statewide.

Ben Greene, an international speaker and CEO of BG Trans Talks, says that an increasingly hostile political climate, particularly in an election year, has left many LGBTQ+ people wondering “who around them has been radicalized against them.”

“In addition to the constant mental strain of hearing politicians, political pundits, and people in our lives debate whether or not we deserve access to health care, restrooms, and other human rights, we also have to deal with the consequences of being a politicized community,” Greene says. “Because of how frequently these topics are debated in political settings, transgender people are often accused of trying to ‘make everything political’ by asking to have safe work environments or to have our pronouns respected. We as a community have been made political against our wills.”

A Civility Issue

The workplace has become a hotbed for uncivil behaviors.

Research from SHRM found that two-thirds of workers (66 percent) said they have experienced or witnessed incivility in their workplace within the past month, and over half (57 percent) had experienced or witnessed incivility at work within the past week.

The most common forms of incivility witnessed or experienced included:

  • Addressing others disrespectfully (36 percent observed this behavior).
  • Interrupting or silencing others while they are speaking (34 percent).
  • Excessive monitoring or micromanaging (32 percent).

Jim Link, CHRO of SHRM, said a lack of civility in the workplace can have profound consequences for any company.

“But the effects incivility has on the individual employee, as shown in SHRM’s recent research, should serve as a particular cause for concern among business leaders,” he said in a March 2024 statement.

For transgender employees, incivility has become the norm. These employees often face various forms of uncivil behavior at work, including:

  • Misgendering. Being referred to by the wrong pronouns or name, intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Harassment. Verbal or physical harassment based on their gender identity, such as derogatory comments or jokes.
  • Exclusion. Being excluded from social activities or professional opportunities because of their transgender identity.
  • Microaggressions. Subtle behaviors or comments that communicate hostility or insensitivity toward transgender workers.
  • Discrimination. Unfair treatment in hiring, promotion, or compensation based on someone’s gender identity.

Paul Wolfe, a workplace expert and former HR executive at Indeed, Condé Nast, and, says political discourse often amplifies societal divisions, and issues related to transgender rights may become polarizing topics in the coming months.

“This heightened attention can lead to increased anxiety and fear among transgender workers, especially if there’s uncertainty about potential policy changes,” he says.

A 2023 study indicated that about 1 in 3 transgender people experience depression, and nearly as many deal with anxiety. Depression and anxiety symptoms were significantly linked to being a younger age, being unemployed, having worse self-rated health, and having at least one chronic disease.

Research also showed that transgender individuals are at a higher risk of:

  • Emotional and psychological abuse.
  • Physical and sexual violence.
  • Substance misuse.
  • Thoughts of suicide.

Wynne Nowland, CEO of insurance firm Bradley & Parker in Melville, N.Y., said transgender people, like herself, are a “safe and easy target” for political and societal scrutiny, causing more distress for transgender employees.

“I’m certain [the upcoming election] will cause more stress for trans people in general and certainly in the workplace, particularly in states where the rhetoric is really ramped up,” she says. “The sad thing is, virtually every poll shows that most people really just want to live their own lives and support most trans issues. That’s not what’s being reflected in the rhetoric, though.”

Creating a More Inclusive, Civil Workplace

Greene, a transgender man, says the upcoming election—and the incivility that could come with it—might prevent many transgender employees from coming out at work. Coming out at work is a significant moment for LGBTQ+ individuals and can allow them to bring their whole, authentic selves to work.

“When we come out, we aren’t just sharing our stories with our co-workers,” Greene says. “We’re opening ourselves up to the risk that we lose opportunities, lose connections, and lose the respect of our peers.”

He explains that employers taking a clear stance on transgender inclusion can make a significant difference in the lives of these employees. Greene laid out three ways that companies can boost inclusion levels among transgender workers:

  • Have clear, inclusive policies around name and pronoun use, inclusive bereavement and parental leave, and inclusive health care benefits.
  • Host regular educational programming to help the overall workforce become more educated and empathetic toward their transgender co-workers.
  • Consider creating relocation and travel policies to support employees living in states where gender-affirming health care or other rights have been eroded.

“It will be especially impactful to have these policies in place in preparation for a potentially hostile election season,” Greene adds.

Fostering a culture of respect and acceptance can create a more civil environment for transgender employees, particularly in an election year. Wolfe says educating employees on transgender issues, promoting empathy and understanding, and establishing clear guidelines for respectful communication can establish a healthier culture.

“Additionally, leaders should lead by example, modeling inclusive behavior and promptly addressing any instances of discrimination or harassment,” he explains. “As a chief HR officer, it’s crucial to proactively address concerns by fostering open dialogue, providing resources for support and reaffirming the company’s commitment to inclusivity.”