What’s Gender Diversity Got to Do with My Nonprofit?

Laurin Mayeno

As part of our rollout of Neon One, we will be hearing from industry celebrated experts in a wide variety of fields and expertise. Today’s educational spotlight comes from Laurin Mayeno, whose expertise is Diversity/Gender Diversity.

There’s a gender revolution going on. Young people are busting out of gender boxes and expressing who they are in many ways. Growing numbers of children, youth, and adults are identifying as transgender. Important progress has been made as the result of many years of struggle, and the work of many leaders and activists, both past and present. This includes growing awareness that gender isn’t either/or and growing support for gender diversity in many communities.

Tragically, our society, our families, our schools, and our communities aren’t prepared for this gender revolution. Change isn’t happening fast enough to prevent family rejection, bullying, homelessness, violence, job discrimination, denial of medical services, unjust incarceration, social stigma, and day-to-day mistreatment that threaten the well-being, safety, and rights of transgender and non-binary people, and others who don’t conform to social expectations based on gender. A vicious backlash adds to these threats, particularly for people who are targeted based on many identities, such as gender, race, immigration status, perceived Arab or Muslim identity, and disability.

What does this have to do with nonprofits?

A growing number of community and government organizations are recognizing gender diversity and creating more inclusive, equitable environments for staff, volunteers, and clients. Change is happening. If you haven’t started on this path, now is a perfect time to get on board.

It’s easy to think that gender inclusion and equity aren’t priorities for your organization, particularly if you don’t notice gender diversity on your staff or among the people you serve. Gender diversity exists in all communities, but isn’t always visible. People who identify as transgender are more racially and ethnically diverse than the U.S. population as a whole. You may not see gender diversity due to barriers that keep people away or make it hard for them to openly be who they are.

Here are some things that may be happening in your nonprofit:

  • a young person who needs your services doesn’t feel safe in your agency’s environment, or participating in your programs.
  • the visuals on your website, publicity, or in your office environment unintentionally signal that gender diverse people are not welcome.
  • staff members are making incorrect assumptions about people’s gender based on how they look or dress.
  • staff members are routinely called by the wrong pronouns, hear language that excludes them, or feel unsafe using restrooms.
  • bias in your hiring processes result in discrimination against transgender and non-binary people.
  • needs of gender diverse people in your community aren’t being recognized and addressed.
  • someone wants to transition at work, but doesn’t feel safe doing so.

Could any of these things be happening in your nonprofit? Nonprofits, no matter how liberal or progressive, aren’t immune to these challenges. Don’t be too hard on yourself, but do take action, the sooner the better.

Do you want your organization to be a place where people of all gender identities and expressions are welcomed, treated with respect, and have access to services and opportunities? A good starting point is to assume that there is gender diversity within your staff and your community, whether or not it is visible.

Here are some things you can do (not an exhaustive list):

  1. Create norms in the organization for respectful behavior, accountability, and ally-ship.
    Interrupt disrespectful comments and actions. Learn about being an ally and engage everyone in the organization in active ally-ship. Learn about and implement practices and behaviors that make your space safe for all, including inclusive language, terminology, and use of pronouns and names.
  2. Listen and learn.
    Find out what is happening, and not happening in your community and organization. Do so in a way that is respectful of privacy and never pressure anyone to reveal their identity. Listen, when people want to share, but don’t place the burden of teaching on people who are marginalized based on gender. Search for information and resources. Learn from organizations and leaders that are on the leading edge and compensate them for their time.
  3. Unpack and unlearn the gender binary.
    Most of us are socialized to think, speak, and behave according to a binary either/or way of looking at gender. These patterns, learned since childhood, are deeply embedded and have become normalized much like a default font on a computer. We need to unlearn many of the “truths” we have been taught about gender in order to learn, practice and develop new patterns. We need to reset the default.
  4. Make sure your facilities support gender diversity.
    Provide gender-inclusive restrooms and make sure everyone understands that people are free to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity.
  5. Develop partnerships with organizations that are led by and serve the transgender community, including transgender communities of color.
    Recognize that organizations led by transgender and people of color are often underfunded and may have less access to resources and power than your nonprofit. In addition to learning from these organizations, ask how you can support their growth and sustainability.
  6. Remove biases from your policies and practices.
    For example, review your employment and other HR policies to remove gender-based bias. Make sure your forms are gender-inclusive. Know the laws that exist to protect transgender and non-binary people and make sure you are in compliance.
  7. Make your programs, services, and communications inclusive and equitable.
    Keep in mind that that trans and other gender-diverse people often have multiple identities based on race, immigration status, disability, and other factors that result in specific needs. If you work with children or youth, make sure you have ways to support both gender-diverse children and their families or caregivers.

Many thanks to Anthony Ross, Outlet Program Director at Adolescent Counseling Services for collaborating on this piece.


Sources

National Center for Transgender Equality
National Geographic, January 2017 Issue
National Transgender Discrimination Survey
Transgender Law Center
Trans Student Educational Resources
The Williams Institute
Stepping Up: A Consensus Statement by Trans Leaders: Best Practices in Providing HIV Medical Care, Support Services, and Funding to Trans Communities

More Resources and Organizations

Bloom
Brown Boi Project
Cardea
Family Acceptance Project
Gender Diversity
Gender Spectrum
GLSEN
Health Across the Gender Spectrum

National LGBT Health Information Center
National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network

Neutrois Nonsense
PFLAG
Queerability
Trans Women of Color Collective
Welcoming Schools

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