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How to avoid “transwashing” in business this Pride

LGBTQ+ Pride Month is dedicated to the celebration and commemoration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and whilst the rights and treatment of people with different sexual orientations have to some extent improved, transgender and non-binary individuals still face a lot of opposition and misunderstanding. Transgender rights have become a hot topic, but also a tick-box exercise, which has also led to a different type of discrimination similar to pinkwashing in the form of transwashing according to Inclusive Culture Expert, Joanne Lockwood CEO of SEE Change Happen.

LGBTQ+ Pride Month is dedicated to the celebration and commemoration of lesbiangaybisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and whilst the rights and treatment of people with different sexual orientations have to some extent improved, transgender and non-binary individuals still face a lot of opposition and misunderstanding. Transgender rights have become a hot topic, but also a tick-box exercise, which has also led to a different type of discrimination similar to pinkwashing in the form of transwashing.

In the 2021 government census 165,000 people identify as “other” sexual orientations and 262,000 people (0.5%) said their gender identity was different from their sex registered at birth but the figures are expected to be greater than that because of people not wishing to disclose their gender identity.

The negative effects of transwashing on both consumers and businesses
Transwashing is the practice of promoting trans rights for reputation purposes with a level of disregard for whether it is actually doing the trans community any good. An example of a transwashed service is one that might market itself as transgender-friendly without actually being open to having transgender staff or offering transgender-specific services.

Transwashing is not only hurtful to transgender and non-binary people but can also damage businesses and alienate potential customers and can potentially end in legal action.  In today’s climate of increasing awareness and appreciation of gender diversity, customers (especially the younger generation) are more likely to boycott brands that engage in transwashing and vote with their wallet, as may their friends and families, because the lack of authenticity is both off-putting and offensive.

Transgender consumers will often do their research when considering using a new product or service and will take the time to read reviews and see if other transgender people have had positive experiences.  There are still many reports of transgender people being refused service, harassed, or even attacked in places that are supposed to welcome them. So how can businesses ensure they authentically support transgender rights and make the workplace authentically inclusive for transgender and non-binary people?

  1. Businesses need to walk the walk not just talk the talk. Similarly to supporting Pride in June but not throughout the rest of the year, a lack of transparency and authenticity will always cause harm. Go beyond the soundbites, June-only celebrations and the token changes to sustainable and measurable inclusion. Businesses should recognise EDI as an investment, not a tick-box exercise.  It is important to play your part.
  1. Avoid stereotyping.  Every trans or non-binary person has their own story, experience and journey.  Refrain from making assumptions about an individual and instead focus on providing them with the same opportunities, support and resources as everyone else.
  1. Don’t exclude the privileged either.  An organisation lacking diversity and inclusion is likely to possess some unconscious bias or discrimination. Inclusive diversity doesn’t mean diminishing another group.  For example, we need white men not to be excluded from the discussion about gender and sexual orientation and to be interested in the challenges transgender people face so they can support transgender people in their life, work or community.
  1. Create solid policies. Businesses should take steps to ensure that transgender employees and customers feel welcome and included by educating all employees about the needs and concerns of transgender people. This should include rights against harassment and healthcare that protects transgender employees from discrimination.
  1. Educate yourself about transgender history, culture, and experiences. This can also involve talking to family and friends about topical transgender challenges or sharing transgender-positive content on social media.
  1. Encourage allies. Allies can show support by using inclusive language and pronouns, demanding equal opportunities and standing up to bigotry and hate speech so transgender people can live their lives with less fear and more confidence.
  2. Be respectful. Transgender people should feel comfortable using the toilets and facilities that correspond with their gender identity.

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