Sex and gender identities are becoming increasingly complex in America, creating new challenges for public administrative agencies. So far, the vast majority of U.S. federal agencies lack comprehensive transgender employee policies – which are currently in place for only nine of approximately 235 federal agencies (including sub-agencies).
Yet as the workforce evolves, federal employment policy must accommodate the needs of employees who do not fit traditional sex and gender categories – and particular attention needs to be paid to formulating policies specifying the responsibilities of employers when their employees undergo transitions meant to shift their anatomy or appearance to align with their gender identity.
What Should a Transgender Policy Include?
Employee policies specifically fashioned by agencies to deal with transgender issues should, at a minimum, cover matters that arise when employees undergo transition processes; restrooms and locker rooms; dress codes; and the use of proper names and pronouns. Many benefits come from transgender-specific employee policies. Such measures can educate supervisors and coworkers about what to expect when someone transitions in the workplace and, by providing protocols to follow, help supervisors and coworkers become more comfortable with and supportive of workplace transitions.
Transgender employees also benefit and gain a sense of security when specific policies are in place. Each federal agency should create its own internal set of transgender-relevant policies, to educate all employees and help transgender employees understand their rights and know where to go for assistance. More can be said about each of the major issues a good policy needs to address.
When Employees Go through Transitions
In the absence of a comprehensive transgender policy, most agencies are left unprepared when employees change their anatomy or appearance to align with their felt gender identity. An effective way to prepare for such processes is to spell out the agency’s workplace transition protocol. Without such an explicit plan, transgender employees who want to transition do not know where to go to begin the process or where they can find answers about what a transition might entail for an agency employee. Additionally, without a standard set of practices, agencies do not know what is required to change all applicable records. Confusion can leave transgender employees scrambling to deal with many different record changes. Submitting requests and medical records to many places can be unnecessarily cumbersome and intrusive.
Plans for Restrooms and Locker Rooms
One aspect of transgender employee policy that has garnered significant attention – and sometimes controversy – is the issue of who uses which restrooms and locker-rooms. A key example comes from North Carolina’s “House Bill 2” that banned individuals from using public restrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex assigned at birth. The United States Department of Justice declared this law in violation of Title VII and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act as well as the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.
Openly transgender employees have, at times, been discouraged or outright or prohibited from using the restroom or locker room that correspond to their gender identities. Many federal employees use a locker room to change into their uniforms or when they enter the agency gym. Additionally, some jobs, like those in the Forest Service, necessitate the use of showers in the locker room. Existing open-shower floor plans in many facilities may not afford transgender individuals a sense of privacy and safety that everyone should have in their workplace. Inside particular workplaces, conflicts and awkward situations can often be headed off by spelling out clear guidelines for appropriate restroom and locker-room use by all employees, including transgender individuals.
Flexible Dress Codes
A comprehensive transgender policy could also resolve problems related to dress codes. Overall, transgender individuals should be allowed to wear clothing consistent with their gender identity; failure to do so could cause harm to their mental health. Obviously, this applies to employees who have gone through transitions. In addition, although dress code policies often assume that all individuals fall into a female-male binary; many individuals identify in non-binary ways. Someone who identifies as gender neutral, for example, may not fit into sex-specific dress codes.
Because it is discriminatory for employers to force transgender people to conform to gender norms, an agency-specific transgender policy should articulate dress and grooming standards that allow employees to dress and groom in ways that are consistent with varied gender identities. The policy should state that no employee will be required to dress and groom in conformance with a particular sex or gender stereotype.
Respectful Use of Proper Names and Pronouns
Another concern to be addressed is the proper use of the name and pronoun corresponding to a transgender individual’s gender identity. After a person transitions, managers and coworkers often use the wrong name and pronoun. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found in 2013 that the intentional and repeated misuse of a transgender employee’s new name and pronoun could harm the employee and thus substantiate a claim of sex-based discrimination and harassment. A further issue is that agencies often have no policy about pronoun use for individuals who request designations other than the traditional “he,” “she,” “him,” or “her.”
When coworkers refuse to use the correct pronoun for a transgender colleague it is disrespectful. The Office of Personnel Management should expand the definition of “transgender” to include gender non-binary employees and clearly communicate this definition to agencies. Transgender policies for each agency should include clear guidelines indicating that all employees – including transgender, non-binary, and other gender non-conforming employees – are entitled, both verbally and in writing, to be called by their preferred name and pronouns.
Read more in Nicole M. Elias, “Constructing and Implementing Transgender Policy for Public Administration” Administration and Society 49 no. 1, (2017): 20-47.
The Presidential Debate, the Supreme Court, and What it Means for the Affordable Care Act
On October 7th, 2020, President Donald Trump went head to head against former Vice President Joe Biden, marking the beginning of the election season and the first debate of 2020. Amongst ongoing chaos, with COVID-19 and racial unrest, this election could make or break the season finale of a monumental year. During the debate, candidates discussed many of the key topics that are at stake during this election, including the open seat in the Supreme Court.
Following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a feminist icon who has paved the way for women, minorities, and the LGBTQ community since 1993, the Court requires a new member, and whether that takes place before or after this upcoming Presidential Election is up for debate. RBG’s final statement was delivered publicly, days before her passing, “My most fervent wish is that I not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Breakdown of the Candidate’s Segments:
After nominating Amy Coney Barrett the weekend prior to the debate President Trump vouched for her on stage, stating, “I will tell you very simply; we won the election. Elections have consequences – we have the Senate, the White House, and we have a phenomenal nominee respected by all.” Trump asserted that his remaining months in the White House would allow him to appoint Associate Justice Barrett to the empty Supreme Court seat. In his short response, President Trump expressed that her position and academic background qualified her for the seat, and reasoned that if it were up to the Democratic party, they, too, would push to elect someone of their choice for the empty seat.
Vice President Joe Biden argued that Trump’s stance on this matter is unconstitutional, stating that the “American people have a say in who the Supreme Court nominee is. And that say occurs when they vote for United State Senators and for the President of the United States; they are not going to get that option now. The election has already started. Tens of thousands have already voted and the thing that should happen- is that we wait. We wait and see what this outcome is.” Vice President Biden expressed his fear that that the nominee for the Supreme Court, who has written against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and deemed it unconstitutional, would place the ACA in jeopardy. He raised concerns about the impact this will have on women’s rights, those with pre-existing health conditions, and the overall reasonableness of healthcare expenses. Biden summarized his thoughts, stating that this matter should be decided on after the election in February of 2021.
Fact-Checking: What is True About Their Statements?
According to the Chicago Tribune, Amy Coney Barrett has not, as Biden claimed, stated that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Barrett has been vocal about her view of the ACA and the laws that upheld it in 2012, but she has not spoken out about whether or not is it constitutionally right within the law.
CNN reported Biden’s concerns about eliminating the ACA would leave approximately 20 million people from having access to affordable health insurance are true. While this appears to be true, and even more so during a global pandemic, the effect of various events of 2020 may have inflated this number. According to a study conducted by the Urban Institute in Washington, which calculated and measured the impact that changing the policy would have on Americans, 20 million people would be without insurance but CNBC reported in August that “up to 12 million Americans may have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance during the pandemic.”
A final point was brought by President Trump about his Supreme Court Nominee, stating that “some of her biggest endorsers are very liberal people.” For example, Barrett has been endorsed by Noah Feldman, a liberal law professor at Harvard as well as some support from former professors of Notre Dame. However, according to Inside Highered, these endorsements sparked a petition from faculty stating, “Many members of the faculty are strongly opposed to Amy Barrett’s nomination,” the letter said. “Many of us do not know her, but she seems to be a kind, decent, and intelligent person. However, we are strongly opposed to her views — as reflected in her writings, opinions, and dissents,” the letter said.
How Will This Impact Americans?
The Supreme Court will eventually be deciding on matters as impactful as the 1973 Roe V Wade decision, which granted women legal access to abortions. Not only does the future of the ACA lie in the hands of the Supreme Court, so do basic civil and human rights. If the ACA overturned, millions of Americans will be left abandoned in the middle of a pandemic with no replacement plan in place. The remaining options of either buying into another insurer with unreasonably heightened prices, or risking getting sick with the coronavirus with little to no support, would no doubt have massive negative impacts on Americans.
Overturning the ACA would also leave the elderly to struggle to pay for their prescriptions, as the ACA currently covers much of the expenses for seniors’ medications. This would also leave women at risk of experiencing gender-based discrimination from insurers who would charge women more than men on insurance coverage. This could lessen women’s job outlooks because businesses with company-covered insurance would view women as more expensive.
On top of impacting various vulnerable populations, America’s current recession may also be worsened if ACA is done away with. Pre-existing health conditions would once again not be covered, and preventative care will need to be paid out of pocket. Among the pandemic, Black, Latinx, and Native Americans are struggling more than ever with the systemic racism that hinders them from receiving care. If ACA is thrown out, this would leave people of color open for further discrimination by insurance companies to higher rates or denial of coverage.
The Supreme Court has recently made decisions on sex-based discrimination, religious discrimination, and immigration law. With justices’ life-long terms, this could impact the American people for decades. The current Supreme Court balance has five conservative justices and three liberals, so this next nominee could sway the Supreme Court vote to either side, and that will ultimately impact what is brought to the Supreme Court. With all of this in mind, it is imperative that Americans utilize their right to vote during the election.
Social Workers as Elected Officials and Why We Need More
Social workers play many roles. As advocates, change agents, case managers, educators, facilitators, and organizers, Social Workers play an important part in helping people and communities make positive changes in their lives. Despite their under-representation in elected positions throughout the United States, Social Workers are excellently prepared to run with these positions and build a better life for their constituents.
An Understanding of Advocacy
Elected officials represent their constituents. They must be able to understand the needs of those constituents and what it will take to get said needs met. This is the essential element of advocacy and something that Social Workers excel at. While those in other fields also learn to perform advocacy, Social Workers constantly prioritize listening to their clients and trying to understand each individual’s viewpoint.
A Large Network
Running for any elected position requires networking. With a career emphasizing the importance of social connections, many Social Workers are already involved in community groups, advocacy organizations, volunteering, and client service that can help an election campaign. Leveraging networks and connections allows one to more effectively spread their message. This is a huge benefit, both throughout the process of running for election as well as fulfilling the responsibilities of the position.
A Deep Understanding of Policy
City Councillors make policy. State legislatures write laws. Most elected officials will be working in some kind of policy writing role that requires an understanding of the impact of their decisions. The accumulated training and experience that Social Workers have makes them excellent in this role. Not only will they understand the direct effects of policies like closing schools during COVID-19 or adding a beverage tax, but they will also be aware of the less obvious effects – for example, how these changes will affect people in poverty.
More than nearly any other career, Social Work requires an in-depth assessment and awareness of personal bias. Considering the diversity of the United States, with citizens from all different walks countries, ethnicities, cultures, and linguistic backgrounds, this awareness of bias is extremely important. Social Workers can use their understanding of cultural competency to establish coalitions of diverse individuals and ensure that all stakeholders truly feel heard in a government environment that frequently does the opposite.
While there are 682,000 Social Workers in the United States, there are only 2 Social Work-Senators and 4 Social Work-Members of Congress. Compare that number to the 1.35 million lawyers in the United States and the 47 Lawyer-Senators and 145 Lawyer-Members of Congress. This means that there is 1 Senator-Social Worker for every 341,000 Social Workers in the United States, and 1 Member of Congress-Social Worker for every 170,500 Social Workers in the United States. On the other hand, there is one Lawyer-Senator for every 28,723 Lawyers in the United States and 1 Lawyer-Member of Congress for every 9,310 Lawyers!
Social workers are sharply underrepresented in these and various other elected positions compared to members of other career paths. Even so, based on their experiences and training, Social Workers could create very positive and impactful changes in these roles.
How To Reduce Harmful Police Contacts With Youth
Imagine this scenario: A young black man is falsely suspected of illicit behavior, stopped, and questioned by police. Because of media depictions of police encounters with people of color, the youth perceives the stop as an injustice (whether it was or not). On edge, he signals his anxiety to the police, making it more likely that the interaction devolves into verbal abuse or physical aggression. The police officer detains the young man and brings him to the station where he may be abused. Even if this young man leaves the encounter without serious harm, the experience of arrest makes it likely that he will begin to label himself in a negative manner. He begins to think of himself as bad and acts accordingly – increasing the likelihood of future interactions with the police leading to arrest.
Unfortunately, this kind of scenario is all too common. Research shows that young people who experience arrest often begin to view themselves as “delinquents” or “criminals,” taking to heart social stigma and stereotypes. This process can perpetuate offensive behavior resulting in an increased risk of arrest and sanctions in the juvenile justice system. Such police-contact spirals impact not only young people’s immediate and long-term futures; they exacerbate dysfunctions and expenses in America’s justice system.
Understanding Increased Contacts
U.S. criminal justice policies have spurred increased contact between police and young people. In fact, studies suggest that police are more likely to come into contact with youth than adults. The War on Drugs and other measures designed to address serious offenses have prompted this increase – and too often the suspicion of drug possession serves as a pretext for searches that are racially skewed. Studies show that young Black people, compared to Whites, are disproportionately likely to encounter police and be arrested for similar offenses. From a societal perspective, this skew can be explained in part, by implicit and explicit racial biases held by police officers as well as by various economic circumstances, including profiteering by privatized prisons and detention centers that have incentives to push for “get tough” laws. Zero-tolerance disciplinary policies in schools have also increased the likelihood of police-youth contacts.
Health, Trauma, and Detention
Some of the most harmful and concerning initial encounters between police and adolescents involve physical abuse. Whether deliberate or inadvertent, police do damage to young people’s wellbeing by using aggressive holds, tasers, pepper spray, and other aggressive methods to subdue suspects. Even when physical contact is limited, placing adolescents in handcuffs in a police cruiser and transporting them to the station is often a humiliating and traumatic experience for the young arrestee. At times, research shows, detained young women have even had to ward off inappropriate sexual remarks or advances from police officers.
Arresting young people can lead to detrimental outcomes including harm to their mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing at an especially impressionable phase of life. Like formal arrests, youth detentions often lead to worrisome outcomes. In general, youth detention centers are overcrowded and understaffed, and young people admitted to them often spend anywhere between a few hours to a number of months exposed to negative experiences like verbal or physical abuse in addition to isolation and loss of privacy. Correctional conditions can foster mental illness and unhealthy levels of fear, especially among those who are unfairly detained.
Besides the physical and emotional damage, arrests of young people can damage their future chances to be productive citizens. Arrests can lead to losses in academic standing and increase likelihood of dropping out of school. Such risks are especially acute for those detained for extended time periods. Furthermore, youth who have experienced arrest are likely to face barriers to employment and access to housing and higher education. And because income and educational losses are known to harm individual health, the long-term health of arrested young people also suffers. Moreover, the ill effects can cumulate, because negative encounters and experiences early in life often promote later use of drugs and alcohol and other risky behaviors, which in increase the likelihood of future run-ins with the law.
Finally, policies that lead to increased numbers of youth arrests also further misallocations of constrained public resources. Time spent processing youth arrests detracts from the investigation of serious crimes, which may undermine public safety. Frequent arrests of young people for minor infractions also reduce the efficiency of the legal system. For example, low-level misdemeanor cases drain a lot of time from public prosecutors and public defenders; and youth arrests are more expensive than other measures that could be taken short of arrest.
What Can Be Done to Improve Police-Youth Relations
Although the current picture is grim, research points to promising new approaches:
- Instead of arresting problematic young people, authorities can make referrals to social services or to community programs or camps that provide training in behavior management. With such referrals, police in Florida reduced the time spent on youth cases from six hours to 45 minutes apiece. Similarly, officers in Georgia decreased their arrest time from two hours to 35 minutes. And by channeling contacts with youth through social services, police in Louisiana reported an arrest time of only 12 minutes.
- Officers in training can be taught about alternatives to youth arrests and encouraged to give warnings or civil citations. These options are cost-efficient and cause less harm to young people and the community.
- Once in place, non-arrest measures must be monitored to measure effectiveness and ensure accountability. Research shows that community members can play a key role – for example, through citizen review boards that offer input on new police practices and suggestions for further improvements in police-community relations.
Read more in Patrick Webb, Incapacitating the Innocent: An Investigation of Legal and Extralegal Factors Associated with the Pre-Adjudicatory Detention of Juveniles (Universal-Publishers, 2008).
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