Written By: Jennifer Lynn Teliga
I work for an engineering company that consists of 60+ male engineers and 30+ female office administrators across 19 offices in the country. So naturally with the amount of male engineers and female administrators my company created a “harassment” policy decades ago in order to protect the company from any violators. The “harassment” policy was mainly written around sexual harassment and how it would not be tolerated in the workplace. Each year, at the beginning of each year, they would make us read and sign the policy. I have been with the company over six years and for several years been upset with my company’s harassment policy in how it was just centered around sexual harassment. I have voiced my opinion about the policy stating that it should be revised to include harassment of any kind should not be tolerated, not just sexual harassment. And so my concerns had fallen on deaf ears.
Within the last two years I have begun to find my true self with the help of friends and therapists. I have held my true self back from the world and hidden from my company for fear of being fired. I have been trying to plan how and if I could ever come out to my company and the world as my true self. My father had been battling cancer for over 10 years and within the last couple of years I had watched him deteriorate. In November of 2015 he was diagnosed with the cancer having spread into the bone marrow and was quickly losing the fight. With the passing of my father in January of 2016, who was 62, I decided that I could no longer sit back and watch my life pass me by and regret that I did nothing with my true self. So I had made up my mind that I was going to move forward with my transition and sought out the advice of Gina Duncan at Equality Florida. I met Gina last year at a support group meeting and she had become a resource I knew I could go to for transitioning at my job. She gave me some great advice and simply told me that when I discuss my situation with the company to make it all about work. My company’s annual meeting was coming up in February of 2016 and I decided to talk to our HR dept. manager.
I decided that I needed to find a way to discuss this with my HR dept. manager and so I made a call weeks before the annual meeting to let him know that we needed to talk. The night before the meeting started we met at a pizza shop and had dinner. I started the conversation by saying “I first want to make it clear that I love my job and I want to keep my job.” He took a sip of the beer he ordered and said “wow this sounds serious” and I jumped right in and said “I want you to know that I am transgender and that I am planning on transitioning in the near future.” That was about the time that he then chugged half the beer. He then proceeded to explain that this company is probably the best company for that to happen in as we are an open-minded group and then it clicked and he said “so that explains your emails regarding the harassment policy.” We further discussed my plans for transitioning and whether there would be any issues with meeting client, interacting with coworkers, and so on. Making the conversation all about work.
When we concluded our discussion my HR dept. manager said that he need to talk this over with the company lawyer and see if anything needed to change with company policies and procedures and so forth. In early May of 2016 a new “harassment” policy hit our desks from HR dept. to sign and return. When it was first handed to me by my office manager, who knew about me wanting to transition long before I went to the annual meeting, I thought “now what”, “they want us to sign it again.” She said “I think you are going to want to sign this one”. I read through the policy and within the revised harassment policy it stated “harassment of any kind will not be tolerated against any person in this company regardless of age, color, national origin, citizenship status, physical or mental disability, race, religion, creed, gender, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity and/or expression.” I was finally heard and it took me coming out to the company to change the policy, but it was a leap forward for equality in this company. That was the day that I was more than happy to sign that harassment policy without any grief.