Tag Archives: transgender

Lessons from UN Cares re LGBTI inclusion in the workforce

UN Cares is the United Nations system-wide workplace program created to provide support for UN staff and their families impacted by HIV. In recent years, UN Cares has expanded its focus to also address the rights of LGBTI people working within the UN system.

Laurie Newell, global coordinator for UN Cares at the U.N. Population Fund, says in this Development Ex article that people have come to her over the years describing the UN as a “really homophobic place to work” and asking if there was something that UN Cares could do about it. She says that one of the methods that has worked well in changing UN workplace cultures to be more welcoming for LGBTI people at the UN has been engaging the most senior leaders, because these are the people that can delivery the message with authority and emphasize what the organization expects “in terms of building an inclusive workplace of dignity, fairness and respect, including LBGTI colleagues.” She also says that, if your organization works in the area of human rights or the Sustainable Development Goals, you should “align the purpose of your initiative to the larger goal of the organization,” borrowing language from the SDGs. “We can ‘leave no one behind.” That means starting in-house with making the goals of the SDGs a reality.

The entire Development Ex article is worth your time to read.

Being gay and working in a humanitarian agency is wrought with difficulties and risks, and the biggest challenges can come from co-workers, as this Guardian piece illustrates. Sexual harassment and violence against female aid workers while on mission is widespread, but what’s under-reported is that many gay male aid workers are also targets of such, specifically because of their sexual orientation, and the majority of perpetrators of sexual violence and harassment against aid workers, including blackmail, are their own male colleagues.

International aid agencies and NGOs have mandates that include deliberately, publicly supporting human rights, equality, inclusion, protection and social justice, yet these same agencies will often ignore conditions in their own work place that make it hostile to gay staff members, justifying their lack of action as respecting religious or cultural views of anti-gay staff – something they would not tolerate were those views about a different tribe or ethnicity.

LGBT Aid Workers is a very new online platform for LGBT aid and development workers to come together, share stories and advice, and get support from each other. It’s worth checking out.

I made a personal commitment years ago to be supportive of gay co-workers in my humanitarian and development work: I will staunchly, absolutely protect their privacy, I will never, ever do anything that could “out” them (to be “out” is their choice to do or not, it is not mine), I will listen to their concerns and ask how they would like me to be an ally, particularly regarding their safety, and I will speak out with co-workers if I hear anti-gay rhetoric, reminding staff – even a supervisor – that human rights includes all humans.

Also see:

When mission statements, ideologies & human rights collide

logoThere is a legal case in Canada that started in 1995 regarding a person that was refused participation as a volunteer, and that case has always stuck with me. I have never, ever seen it discussed on an online forum for managers of volunteers and never heard it mentioned at a conference related to volunteerism or nonprofit management. I guess I’ve been waiting all these years for someone else to say, “Hey, what about this? How does this affect us? Might this affect us?” But no one has. So, I guess I will, per a discussion that came up on my blog Treat volunteers like employees? Great idea, awful idea.

In Canada, Kimberly Nixon, a transgendered woman, launched a human rights complaint against Vancouver Rape Relief, a nonprofit, for excluding her as a volunteer peer counselor for raped and battered women that seek the services of this nonprofit. Vancouver Rape Relief said it rejected Nixon as a volunteer peer counselor because the organization’s spaces for counseling clients are dedicated women’s-only spaces, and their clients come to the organization specifically because of this commitment to women’s-only spaces (unlike many other nonprofits that offer rape counseling – another women’s group, Battered Women’s Support Services, accepts transgendered women as volunteers, and Nixon volunteered there previously). Vancouver Rape Relief said the reason was also “because she did not share the same life experiences as women born and raised as girls and into womenhood.”

After 12 years of legal pursuits, in 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada denied Nixon’s appeal to have her case heard, leaving the B.C. Court of Appeal’s decision in December 2005 as the last word on the dispute. This article offers a nice summation of that appeal’s court decision:

While it may appear that Rape Relief discriminated against Nixon because she was born with a penis, they have a different rationale. Rape Relief’s collective belief is that far beyond a person’s biological make-up, socialization and experience are what shapes individuals. It’s part of their philosophy that women experience the male-dominated world differently than men. That was the 34-year-old organization’s original argument for why they should be allowed to exclude men when their women-only policy was first challenged in the 1970s, and they feel it’s relevant to whether they should admit transsexual women.

It’s noted in the article, and I think it is VERY important to note here, that “both parties agreed that Nixon was a woman and that gender existed on a continuum — it wasn’t binary, despite the social convention of dividing everyone into categories of male or female” and “both the tribunal and Rape Relief accept that Nixon has a genuine interest in counselling other women, and she has done so both before and after her filing the human rights complaint.”

This article from 2000, before the case was decided by the courts, does a good job of showing the different arguments in the case. But even with a final decision, the case continues to be a source of controversy in Canada and abroad among those concerned with human rights applications for transgendered people. Some still call Vancouver Rape Relief “transphobic”: this article says that because the organization is “allowed to make their own determinations about who is—or who is not—a woman, and exclude them accordingly” that the organization is “allowed to discriminate against trans women. As a feminist and an ally to the trans community, I find this extraordinarily disturbing.” Disputing these accusations, the organization has a section on its web site defending its definition of a women-only space and its commitment to such, and one of the organization’s long-time staff members, Lee Lakeman, notes in this 2012 interview, that “Aboriginal people used the arguments that we built in court to defend their right to be only Aboriginals in their group.”

I do not bring any of this up to try to debate who is and isn’t a woman.

I could have also brought up cases regarding tribal membership – this article does a great job of explaining why cultural identification determination is so difficult, as well as explaining why tribal leadership gets to determine who is and isn’t a member of their tribe, rather than the federal government or the federal courts. Conversations and debates about such can be just as heated as the Nixon case.

I bring this case up to remind nonprofit staff, employees and volunteers alike, that a definition you may have of a particular aspect of humanity – who is or isn’t a woman, who is or isn’t gay, who is or isn’t a member of a particular ethnic group, who is or isn’t a member of a particular tribe, who should or should not call themselves an Oregonian or a Texan or a German or an English person or an African whatever – may not be the same, or as absolute, as someone else’s. Mission statements, ideologies, beliefs about human rights and the law can all collide – and have over and over, in break rooms, in meeting rooms, at community events, and in the courts. Don’t be surprised when it happens at, or regarding, your nonprofit.

What’s my opinion on this case? No way I’m going there… I’ve been controversial enough on my blog (links below). I’m going to let ya’ll debate it in the comments, if you want.

But I did kinda sorta blog about something like this before, back in 2012: Careful what you claim: the passions around identity

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accessibility, diversity & virtual volunteering

One of the many things I’m proud of in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, is that it features an entire chapter on accessibility and diversity.

That chapter, and the entire book, provide detailed advice regarding:

  • the benefits of having online volunteers representing a variety of socio-economic levels, neighborhoods, ages, cultures and other demographics
  • the benefits of accommodating a diversity of volunteers (an accommodation you make for one particular group often ends up benefiting ALL volunteers)
  • how to use language in such a way as to accommodate and welcome a variety of volunteers 
  • how to adapt online tools to accommodate different online volunteers, including those that may have physical disabilities
  • how to accommodate online volunteers with learning and emotional disabilities
  • how to recruit for diversity; and
  • how to track progress regarding diversity among online volunteer ranks.

The chapter on accessibility and diversity is referenced throughout The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook , because Susan and I did not want anyone thinking it was a chapter to take or leave.

I became an advocate for accessibility and diversity in volunteering and in computer and Internet use in October 1994 when I attended the annual meeting of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility at UC San Diego. There was a panel discussion called “The Meanings of Access,” and remarks during that talk, particularly by Deborah Kaplan, then of the World Institute on Disability, changed my life forever. I came to a realization of two things I’d never had before: accessibility is a human right, and accessibility brings me in contact with awesome people I would never meet or work with otherwise. I became an advocate right then and there.

In 1997, I got funding from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation for the Virtual Volunteering Project to explore how to make online volunteering as accessible as possible, and that same year, blew my mouth off at a conference in Austin, Texas about how disappointed I was that the panelists I’d just listened to, talking about the digital divide, never once mentioned people with disabilities, resulting in one of the greatest personal and professional relationships of my life, with Sharron Rush, who was also in the audience and later formed Knowbility, a nonprofit that promotes accessibility in technology tools and technology careers.

In 2008, I read “InVolving LGBT Volunteers,” published by The Consortium of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered voluntary and community organisations, based in London, the United Kingdom, and that solidified my understanding that making accessibility and diversity a priority in any program is about benefits for everyone in that program, not just people with disabilities or people who are from minority or under-represented groups. This publication is referenced in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, and remains one I return to frequently when preparing lectures or workshops about volunteer recruitment.

I have tried to put into practice all that I’ve heard about regarding virtual volunteering, including accommodations for a variety of people as volunteers and recruiting specifically to create a diverse volunteer pool. I won’t say I’m always successful, and I won’t say trying the methods we promote in the book is always easy, but I will say that it’s made my work experience oh-so-much richer and interesting, and it’s always been worth trying.

The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook is now available for purchase as a paperback and an ebook from Energize, Inc