Kelly Worrall didn’t want to be treated like an animal on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom when her colleagues learned about her transition from John to Kelly.
A producer for Electronic Arts, Worrall was terrified last year after an expert the company hired showed her a presentation he was planning for her co-workers. The slideshow started by saying John would be absent for two weeks and return as Kelly, a transsexual. It progressed to a graphic of groups of people who can be classified under the title transgender, to detailed slides about intersex people and cross-dressers, to the characteristics of “the transsexual” and, finally, a photo of RuPaul, to be followed by a photo of Kelly.
Worrall and the expert rewrote the presentation together. It began with a reminder about EA’s policy on harassment and that individuals could lose their jobs for prolonged bad behaviour. Employees were told personal objections needed to be kept personal.
But according to Worrall, the reaction of her co-workers to the presentation was “amazing.” They wanted to know which bathroom Kelly would use. They were told whichever one she felt the most comfortable with that day. They also talked about relatives and neighbours who were transgendered. Worrall is one of three keynote speakers at Vancity and QMUNITY’s eighth Annual International Day Against Homophobia Breakfast, May 17, which is focused this year on “queering the workplace.”
Worrall and EA’s human resources department planned her transition for a year. Worrall’s boss was told about her impending change after Worrall left the office early one day to take her son to a Whitecaps game. Serendipitously, her boss also attended the game and sat next to her in the stands. Human resources connected Worrall and a transgendered co-worker and the two kept regular lunch dates.
“That time leading up to the actual transition was very important to me,” Worrall said. “It was a time where I felt reassured because I could see the steps that HR was taking to build the environment where I would be protected, and that was my big concern. Am I going to be laughed out of every meeting? Is everyone going to be staring at me the whole time? The answer to that [last question] is yes, by the way. There’s nothing you can do about that.”
Businesses that embrace transgendered people now will be able to claim they were on the right side of history, says Worrall. She argues inclusive organizations generate more creative ideas and solutions, a benefit the breakfast speakers will elaborate on. “Transgenderism is a growth industry,” Worrall said. “It’s becoming OK to be trans. Five years ago it really wasn’t. And now that it is, people are starting to come out, and they will gravitate to the places that embrace them, and so as a company, you have the opportunity to reach a new market by being open.”
Tickets to the breakfast are $55 and benefit the work of QMUNITY.
Dylan Mazur, program manager at the resource centre for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, says social service agencies can leave a blank line after gender on forms so respondents can self-identify instead of ticking male or female. He added more companies have non-gendered washrooms and support LGBT committees.
“That actually fosters the environment where someone can say, oh, I’ll bring my partner to the holiday party… I can put a picture of my partner on my desk or in my office,” Mazur said.
The breakfast is at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. For more information, see qmunity.ca.