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Large US employers, particularly tech companies, have been vocal advocates of transgender rights and acceptance in recent years. Beyond public statements and activism, however, these organizations are also looking at ways to make their HR policies more inclusive of their transgender employees. Fast Company’s Lydia Dishman observed recently that major companies are doing making more of an effort to be trans-inclusive, particularly in terms of ensuring that their benefit plans cover gender-affirming health care:
The Human Rights Campaign, a leading advocacy group, announced last year that over 450 major U.S. employers now have policies to support employees through the transitioning process. Separate research from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) found that these numbers are inching up throughout the U.S. workforce. Twenty-two percent of the nearly 600 HR professionals surveyed said their health plans cover gender confirmation procedures, up from 8% in 2016; a quarter provide mental-health counseling pre- and/or post-surgery, up from 11% two years ago; and 24% cover prescription drug therapy, up from 9% over the same period.
However, these benefits are more likely to be found at large employers like Intel, with workforces in the tens of thousands, than at smaller ones; IFEBP found that only 10% of companies with fewer than 50 employees offer trans-friendly health benefits, up from 4% in 2016.
By way of example, Dishman looks at Intel, which introduced coverage for all gender confirmation procedures, following standards set by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), in 2016, with no maximum lifetime benefit; and Amazon, which began offering unlimited coverage for trans medical care in 2015. Starbucks announced late last month that it had updated its health insurance policy, with help from WPATH, to cover a wider range of procedures that insurers often label cosmetic and refuse to cover but that trans people and their health providers consider essential to their transition process:
The White House is reviewing guidelines proposed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the waning days of the Obama administration to extend the commission’s interpretation of sex-based harassment to include actions based on gender identity and sexual orientation, Lydia Wheeler reports at the Hill. The unusual move has raised fears among civil rights advocates that it represents another effort by the Trump administration to roll back regulatory protections the previous administration sought to provide to LGBT employees:
The language is at odds with the way Cabinet officials in the Trump administration have viewed and carried out the laws governing discrimination, which can include harassment, when it comes to LGBT people. And that’s why civil rights advocates and a former commissioner fear it won’t be approved. …
What’s unusual, former EEOC Commissioner Jenny Yang said, is that the guidance is under review by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) and has been since November. Yang, who left the EEOC on Jan. 3, said the proposal is sub-regulatory guidance, which is not typically reviewed by the White House because it’s only an expression of the agency’s policy.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Jones (Jetstar Airways/Flickr
OUTstanding, an organization dedicated to supporting the visibility of LGBT people in corporate leadership, has published its annual Role Models for 2017: a set of rankings listing the top LGBT corporate executives, future corporate leaders, and public sector executives around the world. Their top role model this year is Alan Joyce, CEO of the Australian airline Qantas, who was chosen for his outspoken support for marriage equality rights. Australian voters are currently in the midst of a referendum on whether to legalize same-sex marriage; executives at over 800 Australian corporations (part of over 2,000 organizations in total) have signed an open letter in support of marriage equality, but Joyce has been particularly visible and vocal on the issue, the BBC reports:
“In the past year I’ve worked hard to drive changes in my own workplace and indeed my own country,” Mr Joyce said. As well as speaking up personally on the question of same-sex marriage, Mr Joyce has encouraged other business leaders to join him in campaigning for a “yes” vote in the Australian ballot. He said more than 1,300 firms have put their name to the cause.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has promised that if a majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in the poll, parliament will debate amending the Marriage Act, which could lead to the country becoming the 25th country to permit same-sex marriage. The ballot will close on 7 November; latest reports indicate that nearly three-quarters of eligible voters have already returned their ballots with nearly two weeks left to go.
Quartz’s Lianna Brinded interviews Lloyds of London CEO Inga Beale, who was number six on the list of role models and says her “own personal experience transformed the way she works and the employees around her—and fostered a working environment that it is fit for a new generation of workers”:
In tandem with the Trump administration’s decision last week to expand exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage mandate, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a guidance memo on Friday instructing federal agencies on how to interpret and apply federal laws regarding freedom of religion. The main takeaway from the broad but ambiguously worded guidance is that employers are to be granted the discretion to make hiring decisions based on their religious beliefs, BuzzFeed reported:
The guidance memo, which avoided mentioning pending cases by name but did refer to the ongoing controversy over contraception coverage in Obamacare, directs federal agencies to observe 20 “principles of religious liberty.” Among them, it says that religious employers are entitled to hire only workers whose beliefs and conduct are “consistent with the employer’s’ religious beliefs” — a directive adopted under former President George W. Bush — and that some of the legal principles extend “not just to individuals, but also to organizations, associations, and at least some for-profit corporations.”
Several rights groups immediately expressed concern that the guidance effectively opened the door for employers to discriminate against women and LGBT employees:
The Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBT group, issued a statement calling the guidance a “sweeping license to discriminate that puts millions of LGBTQ Americans at risk.” … Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, was still reviewing the guidance early Friday afternoon. But she told BuzzFeed News she was concerned it prioritizes employers over the individuals nondiscrimination policies are designed to protect — such as women seeking contraception coverage and LGBT workers.
In an open letter sent to Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday, 55 Houston-area business leaders urged the governor to reconsider his support for the “bathroom bill” currently being considered in the state legislature, which would require transgender people to use restrooms in public buildings, including public schools, corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificates rather than their expressed gender.
The signatories to the letter represent businesses belonging to the Greater Houston Partnership, an economic development group serving Texas’s second-largest metropolitan area, and include presidents, CEOs, regional managers, and other senior executives at companies such as Accenture, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Dow Chemical, Ernst & Young, ExxonMobil, Shell, and Siemens. In the letter, the business leaders state succinctly that they “support diversity and inclusion, and… believe that any such bill risks harming Texas’ reputation and impacting the state’s economic growth and ability to create new jobs”:
Innovative companies are driven by their people, and winning the talent recruitment battle is key. Any bill that harms our ability to attract top talent to Houston will inhibit our growth and continued success – and ultimately the success of our great state. We appreciate your leadership in Texas and urge you avoid any actions, including the passage of any “bathroom bill,” that would threaten our continued growth.
In a statement issued on Twitter Wednesday morning, US President Donald Trump announced that transgender Americans would no longer be allowed to serve in the armed forces “in any capacity”, ostensibly reversing a landmark decision by the Defense Department last year to overturn its longstanding ban on openly transgender service members. While the precise impact of the president’s statement is not yet clear—tweets do not constitute an official change in policy, no ban has been formally implemented, and any attempt to do so will likely face numerous legal challenges—it quickly sparked outrage among transgender Americans, including the estimated 15,000 currently serving in the military, as well as LGBT anti-discrimination advocates.
A number of high-profile CEOs were among the many public figures to voice opposition to the decision on Wednesday, Jena McGregor reported at the Washington Post:
First out of the gate on Twitter appeared to be Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who expressed his gratitude for transgender members who serve. Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, wrote that “discrimination in any form is wrong for all of us,” and Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote that “we are indebted to all who serve. Discrimination against anyone holds everyone back.”
Both Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s CEO and chief operating officer, expressed their support and gratitude, as did Airbnb’s Brian Chesky and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, a frequently outspoken advocate on gay rights issues who led many CEOs to speak out on legislation in Indiana while Vice President Mike Pence was governor, as well as in other states, such as North Carolina.
BuzzFeed and TechCrunch rounded up reactions on social media from various tech companies and their leaders, which also included other household names like Microsoft, Intel, Uber, Tumblr, and Reddit.
In a special session this week, the Texas state legislature is expected to debate a proposed “bathroom bill,” which would require transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificates rather than their expressed gender in public buildings, including public schools. LGBT advocates have decried the bill, similar to legislation proposed in North Carolina last year, as discriminatory and harmful to trans people, especially students in public schools. A number of major companies have also spoken out against the bill: In May, a group of tech CEOs including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, IBM’s Ginni Rometty, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Google’s Sundar Pichai sent a joint letter to Governor Greg Abbott, urging him to withdraw his support for the bill.
As the legislature draws closer to voting on the bill, IBM is stepping up its lobbying campaign against it, and major Texas-based companies are adding their voices to the chorus of employers asking legislators to discard it, J. Weston Phippen reports at the Atlantic:
IBM is the latest major company to step up its fight against Texas’s bathroom bill, which lawmakers will likely debate in the coming week as they work through a special session. IBM sent an internal memo Monday to employees around the world that called the bill discriminatory. The company also dispatched about 20 executives to persuade lawmakers against passing the bill. …