A guide to how social change organisations and collectives can create more supportive environments for transgender and gender diverse activists to work and grow in.
The first person I ever came out to was a friend at a climate activist retreat in 2014. I was terrified. Despite me knowing then that I was transgender, it would take more than 6 years for me to decide to transition.
Part of the reason it was so hard for me to come out is that there was so little clarity around protections and inclusion for transgender people in organising and campaigning. I wanted to be a lead organiser so badly, but I did not see any other transfeminine people in positions of leadership anywhere in the climate movement. As such I found it impossible to envision any circumstance that would allow me to continue to do the work that I loved, and also affirm my gender.
I blame Saul Alinsky in part for this. I really took to heart the idea that “the real radical cuts his hair”. The idea that, against your own desires, you should do everything you can as an organiser to reduce psychological barriers between you and the people you seek to organise. But in our culture, normal most often means cisgender, heterosexual, white, and male.
Transition required me to undo this prior training and learn a new way to powerfully lead from a place of authenticity and self-acceptance.
Visible leadership by transgender people is now more important than ever. A 2021 Gallup Poll in the US found that Gen Z has quickly become the queerest generation ever. 1 in 6 identify as LGBTQIA+, and 1.8% specifically identify as trangender. This rise is largely attributed to a climate of growing acceptance and visibility of trans people. Our workplaces, organisations and movements will need to adapt to this changing environment.
As the next generation of young organisers and campaigners step up, we need to figure out how to support and train them to lead the social movements of the coming decade. My hope is that the next generation of young trans and non-binary people will come into environments where their leadership is valued and celebrated.
Below I have listed a number of recommendations, relevant to both paid and unpaid activists, for how organisations and collectives can create more supportive environments for transgender and gender diverse activists to work and grow in.
Note: I have sometimes split the advice into different sections for funded organisations and then grassroots organisations. This is intended to acknowledge that funded organisations generally have staff, campaign budgets, internal bureaucracy, and a number of legal responsibilities. Grassroots organisations on the other hand I am assuming to have very few or no staff, limited funds, and limited bureaucracy.
Here is a glossary of terms.
#1 Model ‘Trans Positivity’
Our culture is ‘trans negative’. It assumes that being trans is something to be ashamed of or embarrassed by and that, if given the choice, no one would choose to be trans. This often manifests within groups as cisgender people taking well-meaning, but ultimately disempowering, actions to try to protect trans people from negative reactions from the public. For example, not asking a trans person to meet with an MP because you worry that the MP might be confused by their presentation.
Trans positivity is simply the opposite.
Modelling trans positivity means behaving as if there is nothing abnormal or shameful about being trans.
If members of the public have a problem with it, or are confused by it, then that is their problem. Continue to ask trans people to take on public roles and take guidance from them on what they do or do not feel comfortable doing.
Making this cultural shift in your organisation will likely require staff to undertake guided self-education, reading and hearing different trans perspectives, and training to help challenge existing beliefs.
Additionally, Trans people do not need to only be in trans identified roles. People of colour struggle similarly with the experience of being stepped up but only into identified roles, like leading diversity projects, as if the only contributions they can make are from the standpoint of their identities and not from their abilities.
# 2 Set up your Spaces to be Inclusive
There are a number of things that organisations can do to make their spaces more welcoming for transgender and gender diverse people. If possible, make these changes before you have any gender diverse staff or members.
- Don’t gender spaces – e.g. gender neutral bathrooms, bunks, and peer groups.
- Ask people to put their pronouns in staff bios, slack names, and email signatures.
- Normalise pronoun rounds at the start of meetings with new people attending.
- Book an annual training on LGBTQIA+ inclusion to educate staff and volunteers about diverse gender identities and sexualities.
- Explicitly add transphobia to the list of things that will not be tolerated in your workplace or in your social media comments section. This could be done in your employee handbook or induction manual as well.
Finally, you don’t need to categorise or understand everyone’s presentation or identity. In queer spaces there is more of a cultural norm of just accepting people as they present themselves, and not asking for or needing them to define themselves for you. It is totally fine to ask for people’s pronouns and name, but people generally don’t ask for you to define your sexuality or your gender specifically.
#3 Connect People to Mentors
There are a number of people in organisations across different movements who are transgender or gender non-conforming. See if they would be willing to have a coffee with the trans or gender diverse people in your organisation.
As the saying goes ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. Hearing another person’s story can help fight the feeling of isolation that can often come with being transgender, as well as providing expertise and professional guidance.
#4 Create a Gender Affirmation Policy or Procedure
A gender affirmation policy is a set of polices, procedures and commitments for how you will make your workplace more inclusive and supportive for transgender and gender non-conforming people. A good policy should spell out how you will support staff, volunteers, or clients who wish to affirm their gender in the workplace, and include commitments by organisational leadership to principles that protect the rights of employee’s to affirm their gender and present how they wish without the possibility of any disciplinary action being taken against them.
To learn more about what should be in an affirmation policy, read my article.
In addition, it is vital that people-powered organisations take the time to develop policies for how they will support volunteers, especially young volunteers, who seek to affirm their gender. Often people are drawn to social movements because of the inclusive atmosphere. For people who are coming to terms with their gender or sexual identity, movement spaces can feel like a low-risk environment to experiment and explore.
Organisations have a duty of care to connect volunteers with services that can help support and guide them on their journeys. When a volunteer decides to affirm their gender, provide them with a list of local organisations that they can reach out to for help, or even offer them access to your workplace’s Employee Assistance Program.
You may not need a lengthy policy for your organisation or group. Instead, have a coffee with the person affirming their gender to ask them what support they might need, going through a short checklist of common issues [e.g. changing logins]. Ask them what pronouns and name they would like people to use, and how they would like you to handle misgendering and deadnaming.
Ask for permission to share the information from your discussion and then have a talk with other people from your core or leadership team to discuss the changes and what they can do to help support the person.
#5 Train your Leadership Teams
When a staff member or core leader is seeking to affirm their gender, bring together your leadership or core team and discuss how to be an ally to this person. This meeting is about taking an organising approach to allyship, empowering and equipping your leaders to shoulder the responsibility of making their groups supportive and inclusive environments.
- Ask the leaders to commit to making sure that other leaders know and understand the relevant changes
- Teach them how to correct others on names and pronouns
- Provide a list of do’s and don’ts
- Provide a date for when things will change
- Update core movement contacts on the changes so that people can adjust their contact lists
- Make a list of administrative changes that will need to be made [e.g. email, logins]
#6 Take a Clear Stance in Support of Trans Rights
With the rising tide of transphobia from the media it is important to signal which side of this fight you are on. Here are some things you could do to signal that you support trans people within your group or organisation.
- Have trans and gender diverse people represented in your social media content
- Do social media posts in support of IDAHOBIT, Trans day of Visibility, or Trans Day of Remembrance.
- Elevate the voices of prominent trans figures and movement leaders.
- Offer to sign onto public letters and share petitions for issues that affect the trans community.
Resources and Services
I offer consultation for organisations seeking to create gender affirmation policies, can be available to connect with trans and gender diverse campaigners, and may be able to help connect campaigners to mentors. Email me for more information.
Jackie Turner – she/they
- For LGBTQIA+ inclusion trainings
- More information on trans inclusion and helpful workplace templates
- QLife provides anonymous and free LGBTI peer support and referral for people in Australia wanting to talk about sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings or relationships.
https://qlife.org.au/ or 1800 184 527
About the Author
Jackie cut her teeth as an organiser and campaigner in the climate and economic justice movements. Based in Sydney she is passionate about community power, developing the leadership of LGBTQIA+ people, and building movements that can win. She is now scheming about how to build a powerful movement to push back against anti-trans activism and win a society that guarantees a life of dignity, equality, and safety for all transgender, gender diverse, and gender non-conforming people.
- Gender diverse
- Movements_Campaigns - LGBTIQA+_Transgender_Trans rights
- Transgender people