Pride month: Guidance for workforce professionals serving LGBTQ customers

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Pride Month is a chance to celebrate and honor the work of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ+) people as they seek equity and inclusion in society, in the law and in workplaces. For some workforce development professionals, the terminology and perspective of their LGBTQ+ customers may be unfamiliar ground.

The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) has published guidelines and vocabulary to help effectively serve LGBT (USDOL currently references the term “LGBT” in their policy) customers of the public workforce system and provide them with the knowledge, support, and guidance they need to be successful in their career planning and job search. 

The USDOL states their mission is to promote and protect opportunity for all workers. They note the workforce is stronger when it embraces diversity, and when workers can apply their unique skills and talents to jobs that provide fair wages, benefits, safe and healthy working conditions, and ensure respectful inclusion.

In providing workforce services, an inclusive, equitable environment is built through language, policies, and practices that affirm people’s identities.

Why special guidance for the LGBT population?

According to the USDOL Training and Employment Guidance letter 37-14, “Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals experience unemployment and employment discrimination at significantly higher rates compared to the rest of the American population, making it particularly important that they have full access to the services provided by the public workforce system, to help overcome the employment-related barriers they encounter.”

For the public workforce system, there is specific guidance about how to protect against discrimination against LGBT individuals, whether based on gender identity, gender expression, or sex stereotyping.

Some examples of unlawful discrimination include:

  • Denying access or adverse treatment to individuals seeking assistance under a WIOA program based on gender norms, expectations for dress, appearance, or behavior.
  • Treating an individual negatively based on gender expression.
  • Negative treatment based on learning the customer has a same-sex relationship or does not otherwise conform to society’s sex-role expectations.
  • Harassing a customer in the form of gestures, mannerisms, or verbal tone.
  • Denying transgender employees access to the bathrooms used by the gender with which they identify.

There is additional specific guidance to protect Transgender persons:

Because of persistent employment discrimination against transgender persons, it may be more difficult for workforce system customers who are transgender to find jobs. Transgender customers cannot be denied access to workforce and training programs due to their gender identity. The customer should not be counseled to change their gender presentation to find work.

Key customer service practices for serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender customers

Names and pronouns. Always refer to each person by the name and the gender-specific pronoun (for example: he, his, him or she, hers, her) by which the person wants to be called. If you do not know an individual’s pronoun preference, it’s appropriate to ask in a tactful way.

Identification documentation. Transgender people may have mismatched identification documentation (i.e., “old” identification with a previous name and/or gender marker and “new” identification with corrected name and/or gender marker). If a situation in which discrepancies in personal identification pose legitimate obstacles is encountered, staff should explain what documentation must be provided (e.g., proof of a court-ordered name change).

Restroom access. All customers and employees must be able to access restrooms consistent with their gender identities. The decision as to which restroom to use should be left to the individual to determine the most appropriate and safest option for them. Restricting customers and employees to using only restrooms that are not consistent with their gender identity, or segregating them from other workers by requiring them to use gender-neutral or other specific restrooms, singles those individuals out and may make them fear for their physical safety. Bathroom restrictions can result in customers and employees avoiding using restrooms entirely while at work, which can lead to potentially serious physical injury or illness.

Confidential medical information. Information about a person’s status as transgender may be considered medical information, and thus should be kept strictly confidential.

Key terminology for working with LGBT persons

  • Sex: A characteristic assigned at birth based on a combination of an infant’s biological characteristics.
  • Gender: Socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.
  • Sexual orientation: An individual’s physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to people of the same and/or opposite gender. Examples of sexual orientation include straight (or heterosexual), lesbian, gay, and bisexual.
  • Gender identity: A term that refers to one’s internal sense of one’s own gender. It may or may not correspond to the sex assigned to a person at birth and may or may not be made visible to others.
  • Gender expression: A term that refers to how a person represents or expresses one’s gender identity to others, often through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice and/or body characteristics.
  • Gender non-conforming: Refers to individuals whose gender expression is different from societal expectations related to gender.
  • Transgender: A term that refers to people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from that typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Transgender is a broad term and an acceptable descriptive term for non-transgender people to use. “Trans” is shorthand for “transgender.” (Note: “Transgender” is correctly used as an adjective, not as a noun; thus “transgender people” is appropriate, but “transgenders” is often viewed as disrespectful.)
  • Transgender woman: A term that refers to a person whose assigned sex at birth was male but whose gender identity is female.
  • Transgender man: A term that refers to a person whose assigned sex at birth was female but whose gender identity is male.
  • Transitioning: A term that refers to the time when a person begins living as the gender with which they identify rather than the gender they were assigned at birth, which often includes changing one’s first name and dressing and grooming differently. Transitioning may or may not also include medical and legal aspects, such as taking hormones, having surgery, or changing identity documents (e.g., driver’s license, Social Security record) to reflect one’s gender identity. Medical and legal steps may be very costly and sometimes unaffordable.
  • Sex reassignment surgery: A term that refers to surgical procedures that change one’s body to better reflect a person’s gender identity. Contrary to popular belief, there is not one surgery; in fact, there are many different surgeries. These surgeries are medically necessary for some people, however not all people want, need, or can have surgery as part of their transition. “Sex change surgery” is considered a derogatory term by many.

You can find more policy and other information on the US DOL Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy LGBT Policy page.

Find a variety of resources for workforce professionals on CareerOneStop’s Career Advisors page.

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