This week marks Transgender Awareness Week, a week to share stories from the trans community and be show our unwavering allyship. It is a vital time to listen to our trans friends and colleagues, and to learn what they need from allies. But allyship doesn’t end after this week, it continues all year long as we must be strong in our resolve to create a world where all trans people can live freely and safely.
We spoke to Niamh Byrne, a Product Engineer at Yahoo, to learn more about her story, as well as the importance of access to affordable health care for the trans community, what organizations can do to push inclusion, and how she has been blown away by the support she’s received at Yahoo.
Hi Niamh! Thanks so much for speaking to us – can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
Hi, my name is Niamh, and I’m a Production engineer for Ads Production Engineering with Yahoo. I've been with the company for about 9 years now in a variety of roles.
And why is Trans Awareness Week important to you?
Transphobia unfortunately is something we experience in our personal lives but also in our work lives. People are attacked, killed, physically and mentally abused every day for being different. Public exposure to what is happening is so important. It's too easy for people to ignore what they don't see happen personally.
Governments and healthcare systems treat trans people as second class citizens. The public needs to see how the trans community is treated. In Ireland, to access healthcare as a trans person you need a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. To gain this my friend was made to sit through a gruelling 3-hour interrogation with a clinical psychologist. Where they rip through every part of your life from childhood to adulthood looking for evidence, even questioning your sexual identity, as if that defines gender.
I started down the private route and the initial step is also getting diagnosed, but it's just too expensive. I had to see a clinical psychologist at a cost of €800. This took 2.5 hours spread over two sessions. And I was asked similar questions, you feel like you have to prove to them that you're trans. The doctor hated having to ask these questions, they even made him angry.
I know not everyone can afford to go the private route, most of us are stuck waiting on the public system. The next stage for many trans people is accessing hormone therapy. But unfortunately, in the whole of the country, there are only 3 Endocrinologists who treat trans people, and access to surgery is even worse, most people have to go out of the country. Plus, adding in Brexit has made this even more inaccessible. If this happened to any other group in society, there would be protests and riots in the streets.
Mainly I hope by sharing our stories and positive experiences, more trans people will find the courage to start their own journey.
What advice would you give to allies that want to do their best by the trans community?
Challenge anti-trans comments or jokes. It's simply not acceptable.
Consider using more gender-neutral languages in meetings or groups. I know some of my colleagues found it easier to use my name or neutral pronouns such as they/them at the beginning.
Pronouns can be hard to master. We all make mistakes; I personally still mess my own pronouns up. If you make a mistake with someone's pronoun, it's polite to apologize but you don't need to make a big deal about it. Simply try to do better next time. Sometimes it may not be obvious which pronouns a person uses, not all trans people “look trans”. If you are unsure, simply introduce yourself using your own pronouns. For example, “Hi Im Niamh and I use the pronouns she/her, what about you”
Some trans people are happy to talk about their trans journey, and some are not. Let them bring up the conversation if they are comfortable with doing so. Most importantly if someone trusts you with this personal information. Then please understand that this has been entrusted to you and should not be shared with anyone else. This is their story to tell, not yours.
People have a curious nature, it's ok to look but please don't stare.
Support gender-neutral bathrooms in your organization.
Most importantly, we don't need to be wrapped in bubble wrap. Treat us like you would any other colleague. Exclusion can be just as damaging as transphobia.
What is your advice for organizations in creating an inclusive workplace for their trans employees?
I believe that trans inclusive policies would be a good place to start. Companies should lead the way, instead of waiting for government legislation.
Company training on how to be an ally to all the LGBTQ+ community is also vital.
Provide pronoun training, and introduce pronoun use with user profiles and email signatures. This will help employees use the correct pronouns when addressing someone.
Review health policies to see if they can be more trans-inclusive.
Gender-neutral bathrooms. This is one that affects most trans people. Not all trans people identify as male or female. Some trans people are at different stages of their journey. They may not feel comfortable using either bathroom. Gender-neutral bathrooms would provide a safe anxiety-free toilet for both trans and cis people to use.
Have you always been 'out' in the workplace?
I've been working with my company for about 9 years now, God I'm nearly part of the furniture at this stage! But I've only been out in work since last November.
Can you please tell us about your experience transitioning? Did you get the support you needed?
So, I'm at the very early stages of my transition, one which will unfortunately take years. The start was the most difficult. The worry, fear, and anxiety of people knowing the truth about you. Not knowing what people will think or worse say. You worry about losing family and friends for simply being true to yourself.
To be honest, like many other trans people I ask, “why me”. We were never given a choice in this; I wish I had a choice. But I do now, and my choice now is to share my story.
Anxiety has often forced me to sit in my car for 20 minutes before popping into a shop for groceries. On more than one occasion people pointed and laughed at me because I simply looked different. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not afraid of anyone but anxiety is a different beast. This is my day-to-day, but colleagues, family, and friends will always see my laughing, smiling, and my joking side each day, rarely do you see me without a smile.
But it's not all bad, there are more good days than bad I’m happy to say. Most people are kind and supportive, they treat you as a human being. Shops and department stores have been so friendly and treated me like any other customer. I think businesses in Ireland have come a long way.
Most of my family and all of my friends have been so supportive, they may not understand fully yet what it means to be transgender, but they respect my decision and that this was something which I need to do.
I honestly can't speak highly enough of the support which I have received within Yahoo. From HR to Management, and especially my colleagues have been so supportive to this day.
Healthcare is a different story in Ireland, it's pretty much non-existing for trans people. My doctor is very supportive, but unfortunately, not all are. Even though my doctor was supportive, all he could offer me was a referral to the single public clinic for transgender people In Ireland. My world came crashing down around me when he told me that the waiting list was 3 years to be seen and that there was no private route available.
You make this massive life decision and then hit another massive roadblock. I'm now 1 year in and waiting patiently. With Covid, it was difficult to find information or support groups, but 9 months on and I’ve met some amazing and strong trans people at different stages of their journey. I eventually found information on a private route, but the costs are staggering.
Do you feel that your organization support its trans employees?
YES, YES, YES without a doubt.
I read an article about a trans person within our company and how they came out. The love and support they expressed gave me the courage to contact HR. It was the second hardest message I sent, the first was the follow on email to colleagues at a later stage.
Our HR team, from the get-go, were so supportive and compassionate for my situation. They immediately put me in contact with PRISM, our LGBTQ+ resource group. They helped me with pronouns and put me in contact with a trans colleague in the company. She was so supportive with advice for work and my personal life. My managers were next on the list and without a question, every level expressed support and had my back. The last hurdle was sending that email to colleagues. I think it took 30 mins to hit the send button but instantly the support started to flow in. I think that it speaks to the calibre of people working at Yahoo.
Do you think the T is visible enough in the LGBTQ+ community?
No, unfortunately not, so many trans people are so afraid to let people see the real them. I think we need to do a lot more to show them that it's ok to be themselves and that the LGBTQ+ community is a safe space for them.
Do you think it’s important that you personally support your trans colleagues?
I hope to offer the same support and compassion which I received going forward.
Would you come out during a job interview?
This question really annoys me. Should any person be judged on their appearance, gender, sexual preference, or color of their skin? Our abilities should speak for themselves.
I'm at the start of my journey so I obviously “look trans”. At the HR stage, I would enquire about company trans policies, and let the discussion go from there.
I think candidates forget sometimes that an interview is a two-way conversation. It's important to find out if the company is a good fit for you.
Lastly, what can we all do to push for awareness of trans human rights all year round?
Become more proactive in LGBTQ+ resource groups and help shape the future. And stand with us, we can’t change laws on our own.