Transgender Inclusion for LGBT Organizations

May 2012 | Harper Jean Tobin, Policy Counsel, National Center for Transgender Equality

Organizations serving LGBT older adults regularly ask the National Resource Center, or my organization, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), how they can better serve transgender people. They may not see trans older adults taking advantage of their services and programs, or they may feel staff or volunteers are unprepared to adequately serve this segment of the community. They may even have encountered prejudice against trans older adults among other LGBT community members. These are common challenges for LGBT organizations of all kinds. The following advice is adapted from Opening the Door to the Inclusion of Transgender People: The Nine Keys to Making Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organizations Fully Transgender Inclusive a publication of NCTE and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. These principles can help guide organizations toward full inclusion of transgender older adults.

The Basics

  • Work toward inclusion at every organizational level. Transgender people should be among your clients, members, guest speakers and event participants, volunteers, staff and board members. Get to know the trans community, organizations, advocates and trans-friendly faith organizations in your area. These may not include many trans older adults, but these connections will help you recruit and include trans older adults. Visible trans participation and leadership tends to attract more participation by trans people. Try not to rely on the leadership of one or a select few people to act as a representative of the entire trans community – try to be include trans people in all aspects of your organization. This takes time but is worth the effort.
  • Recognize the diversity of the trans community. Trans older adults are diverse in gender, race, religion, income, education, ability and sexual orientation. Again, recruiting a broad range of trans people takes time, and the trans individuals and organizations that are most visible in your community might not be very diverse.
  • Educate yourself about transgender people’s lives, experiences and concerns. Make a personal commitment to increase your knowledge through reading, research, and attending educational events. The onus should not be on individual trans people to provide basic education. If possible, arrange for training focused on transgender cultural competence.
  • Adopt a policy of respect. Understand that every person’s gender identity is who they are, and is entitled to respect. Simply put, this means that if a person identifies as a woman, she should be treated as a woman; if a person identifies as a man, he should be treated as a man.

Programs and Policies

  • Review your language. Does the language used in your literature, website or other communications reflect the experiences and concerns of transgender people? Are the names of your organization, events, and programs inclusive? You should be talking about gender identity as well as sexual orientation, transphobia as well as homophobia, and who people are as well as who they love.
  • Review your forms. Do your intake forms assume that everyone is gay, lesbian or bisexual, or that everyone identifies as male or female (most trans people do, but some do not). Do your forms allow people to identify themselves as transgender whether they are male or female?
  • Have trans-inclusive programming, services and advocacy. You should offer programs that are trans-focused, but trans people should be welcomed, included and expected to show up for everything you do. Obviously, what this looks like depends on what your organization does and the needs of your transgender clients or members. It could include:

- Creating transgender-focused social, support or discussion groups

- Hosting speakers or other programming on topics of particular interest to trans people

- Assisting transgender clients with name and documentation changes or health insurance issues

- Ensuring that staff or volunteers assisting with family and estate planning are familiar with unique legal issues affecting transgender people and their families

- Ensuring that community needs assessments recruit transgender participants and address the needs of transgender people

  • Provide equal access to facilities. For restrooms, changing rooms and other facilities that are separated by gender, all persons should have access to facilities consistent with their gender identity. Single-user, unisex restrooms provide additional privacy and choice for everyone but trans people should not be expected to only use single-user facilities.
  • Have inclusive employment policies. Your equal employment opportunity policy should cover gender identity. If you offer health benefits, determine whether employee plans exclude transition-related care; if so, take steps to eliminate these exclusions.
  • If your organization provides medical care or medical advocacy, be familiar with the medical needs and clinical guidelines for treating transgender people, as well as insurance barriers and ways to deal with them. Consult the Standards of Care published by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, and the Primary Care Protocol developed by the UCSF Center of Excellence for Transgender Health.

Awareness and Organizational Culture

  • Be sensitive to personal privacy. Trans older adults often experience intrusive questions about their bodies and medical history. For many people, this kind of information is very private and is not something they generally want to share.
  • Don’t make assumptions about the sexual orientation of transgender people. Gender identity is different from sexual orientation. Many transgender older adults identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, while others identify as heterosexual. (One common pitfall for LGBT organizations is the colloquial use of “heterosexual” as the opposite of “LGBT.”)
  • Promote awareness and deal with prejudice. Some of your clients, members, volunteers or staff may lack basic knowledge about transgender older adults – be prepared to address questions, respond to uninformed remarks and provide opportunities for them to become more informed. Unfortunately, transphobia among LGB community members, clients and even staff may also be significant problems that need to be addressed, not ignored.
  • Acknowledge past mistakes. If your organization has previously dome something that was not trans-friendly, or you know it has not had a good reputation among transgender people, it is important to put aside defensiveness and be willing to discuss those things. It takes time to rebuild trust.
  • Be consistent and persistent. Recognize that the work of full inclusion, whether with regard to gender, race, ability or other issues, is never done.

For More Information


Harper Jean Tobin: As Policy Counsel, Harper Jean coordinates all aspects of advocacy on federal administrative policies and regulations for National Center for Transgender Equality. She received degrees in law and social work from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and is an alumna of Oberlin College.