Many of us identify as allies of people who are transgender and gender nonbinary. If you’re an ally and looking for ways to translate your values into policies and practices – then this episode is for you!
We speak with Andy Marra, the chief executive of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF). Andy is not just the CEO at TLDEF, she has also long been a leader in the fight for transgender rights and equality.
She joins us today to discuss 6 steps that even the smallest nonprofit can take to demonstrate their commitment to full inclusion for people who are transgender or gender nonbinary. Listen in and learn about steps you can take to build a more trans-inclusive environment for all your stakeholders.
Listen to the Episode Here!
Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) Website
(10:26) All-gender bathrooms
(15:55) Common areas
(18:11) Equal employment opportunity policy
(23:17) Health benefits
Dolph Goldenburg (00:00):
Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits® Podcast. I’m your host, Dolph Goldenburg. I am so excited today to have Andy Marra on to talk about building trans-inclusive nonprofits. I think this is a pressing issue for nonprofits all across the country. I believe that the vast majority of nonprofits are not doing enough to create trans-inclusive environments. And that’s not just for their staff, it’s for their volunteers, for their clients or patients, for their community members. They should be doing more. And I will also share with you that I have been trying to get Andy on this podcast for probably six or nine months. But she is incredibly busy as the leader of the transgender legal defense and education fund. She is their executive director and has been doing incredible work as a leader in the fight for equality and justice, for people who are transgender and gender non-binary.
Dolph Goldenburg (01:16):
She’s been there just about two years as this podcast gets released. And in those two years, the size of the organization has tripled. They have never had as many lawyers on staff to help with name changes, advising clients, and pursuing litigation so that we can have, not just a more just world at one organization or one employer, but across multiple employers. They started new programs. For example, a healthcare access project. She has done incredible things at the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF). While also being an outstanding advocate for the community and for equality. One of the things that I really value about Andy is she comes at this from a number of different perspectives. She has a lived experience that informs the work that she does. She also has worked for a number of nonprofits, most of which are in the LGBTQ space. And she has been on the other side as a funder, as well. So she sees this from so many different perspectives. I cannot think of a better guest to have on to talk about trans inclusive nonprofits from an intersectional lens. Hey, Andy, welcome to the podcast
Andy Marra (02:49):
Thank you for having me. And it is a delight to finally sit down and chat with you.
Dolph Goldenburg (02:53):
I also forgot to say you and I got to know each other because I was the interim at TLDEF and you immediately followed. And from the very first moment that we met, I knew that TLDEF was going to be in such great hands with you as the leader. And my gut instinct was right, because again, the organization is so much more impactful than it was. So I think the best way for us to start this conversation is if the Boys and Girls Club of Lexington asked for advice on creating a trans-inclusive organization, what would you say to them?
Andy Marra (03:32):
That’s a great question. What I think is important for your listeners, many of whom probably do not work at LGBTQ+ organizations, is the first step is to listen. Before building out new best practices in your HR programs or before talking to your staff, really take a step back, zoom out and do your homework as you would approach a feasibility study for a new program or a new project. Do a landscape analysis and speak to organizations in your local communities that may have this expertise. I think that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for making sure workplaces are more trans-inclusive.
Andy Marra (04:45):
But at the same time, I do think there are a couple ways that an organization can begin to introduce this idea of becoming more inclusive and creating a more inclusive and affirming environment. A great example is indicating a person’s pronouns on your email signature or on your business cards. Or pronoun stickers in your lobby or reception area. This is a great way to signify to your clients and stakeholders that your workplace has a baseline understanding of trans issues and is working to create a more inclusive environment. And for a trans person walking through your door, it’s an incredibly strong social cue that this organization is a safer, more affirming environment.
Dolph Goldenburg (06:24):
I’m going to ask you for a moment of coaching on this. I have pronouns on my email signature and Lexie, who works with me Successful Nonprofits®, also has pronouns in her email signature. And I believe it’s an important way that I can show allyship, but every now and then, I’ll be talking on the phone with someone and they’ll say, “I see ‘he/him’ in your email signature. What does that mean?” And so I’ll say to the person, “Oh, those are my pronouns.” The person will typically get this puzzled voice and they’ll say, “Well, why would you put that in your email signature?” And my response is always, “Well, I want to be really clear about what pronouns I use. And I think it’s important that we all are.” Am I handling that well when I get that question or is there even a better way I could be answering that question?
Andy Marra (07:19):
Personally, I like including pronouns in email signatures and business cards. And I’ll even go a step further and use someone’s chosen name over perhaps their current legal name. Changing your legal name is one of the first steps to transition. And even though a person may not have legally changed their name, it’s an easy lift to use a chosen name in an email signature or business card. The reason I like it is because it sets the tone. This is becoming a mandatory practice for workplaces because there is increased awareness and understanding for the need to create more inclusive workplaces, especially for transgender people. It’s also a great conversation starter. When a person asks about your pronouns in your email signature and business card, it gives you as a workplace, whether you’re the executive director or the receptionist, an opportunity to share the organization’s values around diversity, equity and inclusion. And it also gives you an opportunity to articulate the organization’s commitment to creating a safer and more inclusive workplace that does include transgender people who do need to state their pronouns. And also it puts the burden on non-transgender people to also share their pronouns.
Dolph Goldenburg (09:01):
So it sounds like I could be going a step further and actually say to that person, “This is part of how I demonstrate that my consulting practice is inclusive of people who are trans and gender non-binary. And I think we should all be doing it.”
Andy Marra (09:19):
I think it’s a great ice breaker. It is a great opportunity for the organization to not only talk about its mission, but also talk about its values; its issues; and the kind of staff, volunteers, donors, and funders it wants to be involved with.
Dolph Goldenburg (09:41):
I’ll share with you, Andy, the first time I got that question I was actually thrown a little off guard. Like you, I do so much work in the LGBTQ community. So the first time I got it, I was like, “What do you mean you have a question about this!?” And that’s when I thought, “Oh yeah, I need to figure out how I’m going to handle this question.”
Andy Marra (10:01):
And I do think that we are in a moment in the nonprofit sector where we’re on the cusp of change. There is a transformation happening in the nonprofit sector where more and more nonprofits, including places like the Boys and Girls Clubs of the world, are showing up and using small and big cues to indicate their commitment to creating workplaces that affirm everyone.
Dolph Goldenburg (10:26):
So after nonprofits have done their homework and really looked internally and they’re starting to look at some of these policies like pronouns and names, are there other policies that organizations should be having conversations about?
Andy Marra (10:41):
I think there’s probably two ways that we can break this down. One is for organizations that have physical workspaces and the other is organizations that don’t. So let’s start with organizations that have work space. Something that is becoming increasingly significant, not just for the workplace, but also in municipalities and jurisdictions across the country, is the question around public accommodations. Specifically restroom facilities for transgender people. Where I live in New York city, there is a requirement to have an all gender restroom in public accommodations across the city. Whether you’re at a restaurant, a movie theater, or a bank, there should be an all-gender restroom available on site. And the beauty behind all-gender restrooms is that it doesn’t just increase the physical safety for trans people in being able to go about their business. But it also is incredibly important for parents who have children. And it’s also incredibly helpful for folks with disabilities, being able to have not just an all-gender restroom, but also an ADA compliant restroom. So there’s a multitude of utilities for having all-gender restrooms in the workplace.
Andy Marra (12:03):
It’s a pretty straightforward practice. If you outright have space that has restrooms- consider converting them into being all gender restrooms. And that could be as simple as replacing the signs. It’s especially easy if they are single-stall restrooms. If you are working in a building with other tenants and you share a bathroom with everyone, ask your landlord whether or not they have all-gender restrooms available in their facility. And if they don’t ask them if they are up to code for the jurisdiction that you live in. So for instance there are other cities, like Washington DC, that have this requirement in place to ensure that trans people and other people across the spectrum of identities have access to that public accommodation.
Dolph Goldenburg (13:02):
And I will also say that organizations can be creative with their signage for all-gender restrooms. For example, all the restrooms at the LGBTQ community center where I live, Atlanta, GA, are all-gender restrooms. Their signs have an icon of a toilet and below it just says, “Y’all.”
Andy Marra (13:26):
I’ve seen a variety of signs that indicate that it’s an all-gender or a single-stall restroom. When I was traveling for work, I was staying at a hotel and I was about to dart to a team meeting, but I needed to take a bio break. And I was in the lobby and I found the restrooms that were available in the hotel lobby area. And they had an all-gender restroom sign on their door. And it’s surprising to see how this practice is being adopted, not just in the nonprofit sector and among LGBTQ+ organizations, but across all sectors in the country to make sure that they are creating environments where people feel safe and affirmed in their identity.
Dolph Goldenburg (14:14):
I would not hold this up as a best practice, but I saw some very interesting signage at a hip restaurant in Phoenix. You look at a wall and there’s three doors. The one on the right says, “Men,” the one in the middle says “Everyone,” the one on the left says, “Women.” Regardless of which door you walk through, you walk into the same room and there’s just a big open area with stalls all around and sinks in the middle. And you’re like, “Oh, got it. We all pee. Okay.”
Andy Marra (14:52):
And you know, I think what’s just as important is that if an individual asks where your restrooms are, indicate the options that are available and let them know if you have an all-gender restroom. It’s another social cue that this is a workplace that has a baseline understanding of trans issues. But also it lets the client or the visitor know that the organization is not making assumptions based off the person’s appearance. That person may or may not be out as either transgender or non-binary. And it really sets the tone that the organization is offering a level playing field for every person that walks through the door.
Dolph Goldenburg (15:55):
I love it. And that’s something that the Boys and Girls Club can do and the Humane Society can do and every other nonprofit across the country can do. I know there’s not many right now, but are there any other thoughts or policy ideas for organizations that are currently operating in physical space?
Andy Marra (16:14):
I’m a big believer in utilizing the water cooler space and other common areas in an organization’s office. I think it’s a great opportunity to demonstrate an organization’s commitment to its values, mission, the community that it serves, and its staff. For example, my office’s kitchen area has those employment compliance posters that we all have to update every year. But in addition to that, we also post information about the trans community. And I think that there could be a similar application for organizations across the country, whether you’re working in LGBTQ spaces or otherwise. Use that space to hang a poster that lists pronouns or hang a trans flag or the rainbow flag.
Andy Marra (17:24):
These are small items, but they pay off huge dividends. Because, again, it’s never good practice to assume an employee or visitor’s gender identity. And when a person sees those items in your office, they will have a sense of what you value. So I would say, think about creative and fun ways to demonstrate your commitment to transgender inclusion. I wouldn’t be surprised, especially for the non-LGBTQ organizations that are listening in, if they receive compliments and positive feedback from people they did not expect, simply for demonstrating that they care
Dolph Goldenburg (18:11):
I’ve not really thought about using the water cooler space. And I love that idea. That is such a good idea. For those organizations that do not currently have physical space, and for those that do as well, there’s probably some other policies that folks should be considering.
Andy Marra (18:29):
You know, there are two things that I especially want to point out. Prior to taking the helm at TLDEF, I worked for one of the largest LGBTQ+ funders in the world. We granted millions of dollars annually to organizations doing LGBTQ work and conservation. For both sides of the grant making house, we had a requirement that organizations had an updated Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policy that included gender identity and sexual orientation. So I suggest taking a look at your EEO policy and making sure that is inclusive of gender identity and sexual orientation.
Andy Marra (19:34):
In June, there were three cases that made it to the Supreme Court that were focused on whether or not lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer employees could be fired based off of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And in a six to three ruling, the Supreme Court delivered the opinion that it was illegal under federal law to deny a person or to fire a person from a job because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Prior to that ruling, there were still 26 states that made it perfectly legal for any employer to fire someone because of their gender identity. And with this recent SCOTUS ruling, every LGBTQ person in the country is protected under law because of this historic first.
Andy Marra (20:39):
What’s also incredibly exciting, for the legal nerds out there, about that opinion is that this was the first ever transgender rights case to make it to the Supreme Court. And what makes it even more exciting for me is that there were transgender lead attorneys that stood before all of the Justices and argued this transgender rights case. And the third exciting thing about this ruling is that it would not have been possible if it weren’t for the Civil Rights Act of 1974. So as a social justice leader, I love this because the rights that have been affirmed by our nation’s highest court would not have been possible if it were not for the folks that came before us, particularly those that worked in the civil rights in the 1950s and the 1960s.
Dolph Goldenburg (21:32):
You just made the hair on my arms stand up. I’m bald, so I have nothing on my head to stand up. But you literally just made the hair on my arms stand up. And I’m remiss if I do not say this and acknowledge this, that your organization has really been one of the drivers that have brought multiple cases that have led to this point and have really helped our nation get to this point,
Andy Marra (21:57):
So all three cases were consolidated into one under this ruling. And we were really honored to file an amicus brief in support of one of the three cases on behalf of Aimee Stephens. Aimee was a funeral home director in Michigan and she was fired because she came out as transgender. Our amicus brief for TLDEF was incredibly important in that it was signed by over 30 local and statewide transgender organizations from across the country. We intentionally made that choice because we wanted the Supreme Court to know that transgender people care about what happens in our nation’s highest court and that transgender people stand behind people like Aimee Stephens. I’d also like to give kudos to the TLDEF attorney who worked on that brief. We were the first one to file when briefs were due. Not that anyone should necessarily rush to be the first, but we were incredibly proud to be a part of that case.
Dolph Goldenburg (23:17):
And I will say being the first or among the first shows real commitment, and everybody sees that. A lot of our listeners are at nonprofits that have budgets of less than $1 million. So I do want to note that TLDEF is not a $100 million dollar organization. So organizations can have a big impact, even without a massive budget, if they have the kind of focus that TLDEF does. But I don’t want us to stray too far. So make sure gender identity and sexual orientation are in your EEO policy, especially now that it’s the law and we all want to comply with the law. What are some other policies that maybe are not yet the law that we want to make sure organizations are thinking about?
Andy Marra (24:02):
A topic that often comes up with other executive directors is health benefits for their employees. Like every other person, transgender people’s healthcare is considered medically necessary. And so there’s a lot of questions around how can all employers, not just nonprofits, provide transition related care for employees who come out and want to medically transition to affirm their gender identity? My operations manager receives a lot of these questions, too. And I think there’s a few ways to answer this question. One is to zoom out. Not every organization has the $50 million budget that can afford to self-fund all of the things that insurance plans do not cover. TLDEF is working to bring systemic change to address why insurance plans don’t cover these services, which I’ll talk about in a minute.
Andy Marra (25:14):
But zoom out and see what your organization can realistically provide to your employees. And I’m going to offer a few different kinds of solutions that are currently in play in groups across the country. One is medical leave. Make sure that you have a robust medical leave plan in place for your employees. If you can’t fully cover all of the costs that are related to transition related care, at the very least make sure that offer an employee who may pursue transition-related care the time off so they can have the peace of mind that their employer is giving them the time off to fully recover so they can come back, not just healthy and in a good place to work, but also affirmed that their employer cares about them.
Andy Marra (26:12):
Another thing to consider is how you can support the name change process. Some places, like California, make the name change process simple and seamless. But more often than not, it is a very costly, time consuming, and confusing process. Even here in New York City, there is paperwork, filing fees (which can range from $100 to $3,000 depending on where you live), a court appearance, and sometimes people even have to pay to have their name change posted in a publication.
Andy Marra (27:14):
So what I would say to employers who have some capacity to stretch their benefits a little bit: offer to pay for the legal cost of changing a person’s legal name. As I’m sure you know, Dolph, from your time with TLDEF, name change is a profoundly transformative experience. It is often the one of the first steps in a person’s transition. And it provides a level of safety whether you’re applying for a job or walking into a doctor’s office or even going out to a club. When you do not have ID that matches your gender identity, it often creates scrutiny at best and can compromise the persons’ safety at worst. So if an employer can offer a benefit that can subsidize or help change an employee’s name, I highly recommend it. This is something that TLDEF has adopted since I’ve come onboard. And I’m really excited about it and to see other organizations adopt it, too.
Andy Marra (28:18):
And then lastly, there’s the actual health insurance policies. As it stands, health insurance plans across the country are still catching up with where we’re going legally, and I would also say, culturally. It’s a very conservative industry and it’s also incredibly confusing, whether or not you’re trans. Insurance is just confusing. And for trans people who are trying to access their benefits for medically necessary care, oftentimes they encounter denials from their insurance providers and/or they uncover that there are blanket exclusions that exclude certain procedures that would fall under their medically necessary care.
Andy Marra (29:20):
In 2020, TLDEF launched the Trans Health Project. I strongly encourage listeners who are considering taking a closer look at their benefits or are encountering challenges with their insurance plans around this issue to visit transgenderlegal.org. Click on the Trans Health Project. You’ll find all of the clinical insurance policies that we have accumulated and compiled. You’ll find legal memos demonstrating the legal right for a trans person to have access to this medically necessary care, especially given the recent ruling by SCOTUS, which has set a really strong precedent for us to challenge insurance providers that are denying care to trans people. And you’ll also find self-help materials to help walk a person through how to challenge denials and the appeals process with an insurance provider. And if all else fails, you should absolutely reach out and contact us for assistance navigating your insurance or sharing any challenges that you may have encountered with your insurance provider.
Dolph Goldenburg (30:39):
I love that. And I would imagine if folks go to your health project and review some of the documents there, they’ll probably get a really good sense of what they should be asking their insurance broker when it’s time for the insurance renewal to make sure that their policies are trans-inclusive.
Andy Marra (30:58):
Absolutely. And given the recent SCOTUS ruling, we have the momentum to make sure the Trans Health Project work toward making sure public and private health insurance plans nationwide eliminate all of these exclusions that employers grapple with on a daily basis.
Dolph Goldenburg (31:22):
That is so awesome because, across our country, health insurance is a patchwork. So every state gets to decide what their health insurance rules are going to be. And the current administration has allowed some states to really water down what the bare minimum policy should look like.
Andy Marra (31:42):
And I’ll even take it a step forward for those EDs or operations directors or HR directors that are listening. It’s not easy for nonprofits. Especially small nonprofits because we fall under the small group plans. And so our goal with the Trans Health Project is to make sure that whether you are a large employer that exceeds more than a hundred employees or you are a small group employer that is under a hundred, everyone has equitable access to the care and coverage that they deserve. And that they pay for it.
Dolph Goldenburg (32:18):
TLDEF is doing great work, and this is another example of the ways that you’re doing great work. Thank you, Andy. I want to be respectful of your time. We’re just actually about to go over the point at which I promised you that we would stop. But I’m going to break that promise because I also have to ask you an off-the-map question. You are a civil rights leader and an advocate. But everyone is so much more than just what they do as part of their vocation and their career. So I want our listeners to get to know you just a little bit better. Because we know each other pretty well, I know that you’re also a writer. And so I’m hoping that you’ll share with our listeners a little bit about your writing practice.
Andy Marra (33:02):
So in 2008, I was working in the LGBTQ+ movement. And it was at a time when the fight for marriage equality was at its peak. And it was around the time when there was the legal challenge for Proposition 8. And it was also around the time when there were a string of anti-transgender deaths. And to be frank, I was burned out. I was traumatized and I was burned. I was traveling two or three times a month for work. And it was incredibly stressful. So I made myself a cliche New Year’s resolution that I would carve out time for myself for a practice that was selfishly about me and just about me. I landed on writing. I remembered as a child that I used to love to write silly, goofy stories. And I figured I’d give it another go and see if it would help take me away from all the terrible and difficult stuff that I have to work on on a day-to-day basis.
Andy Marra (34:13):
And from there, it blossomed into this practice of writing essays. I’ve always dreamed and aspired to write a full-on manuscript, and perhaps that will happen one day. But to make my writing practice sustainable, I landed on writing long-form personal essays. And it started with me writing an essay about traveling back to Korea, I am a Korean adoptee, and searching for my family in Korea. And with that story also came the unexpected event of me not only finding my family, but also coming out to them as a transgender woman. Which was incredibly scary at the time, but it reaped dividends. And from there I have written other essays that really focus on identity related to my adoption, gender identity, race and ethnicity and the intersections of those three identities that I carry with me on a day-to-day basis. It has been a very healing experience for myself. But what has been incredibly rewarding is to see how so many other people out in the world have been able to take those essays that I’ve written and find some inspiration or encouragement in them as they grapple with their own journeys.
Dolph Goldenburg (35:54):
Thank you so much for sharing that. And I know your writing practice has been powerful for you, personally. I also feel that part of what you’re saying to folks is: make sure you have some practice that helps you take care of yourself and helps you be you.
Andy Marra (36:11):
I think especially now with all of the challenges that nonprofit leaders are holding, it really feels like the world has fallen on our heads. And especially for advocacy organizations or social justice organizations, this is an incredibly difficult time to navigate. And I would say it is just as important to find some time for yourself to release the burden and the weight and come back to the work even more refreshed so you can continue to fight the good fight.
Dolph Goldenburg (36:48):
Absolutely. Andy, thank you so much for joining us today. I want to make sure our listeners know how to get a hold of TLDEF and take some of these next steps that we talked about. And so they can go to transgenderlegal.org. There, listeners can check out the health project. You can also check out their name change project. Whether you’re interested in a name change or you just want to know more, it’s a really cool project. Also, I would strongly recommend that you sign up for their action alerts. You will get alerts on how you can help and you’ll also get good news in your email box. Like, “Ooh, we won at the Supreme Court.” It always makes my day when I get one of those, “we won” emails from TLDEF. Andy, thank you so much for joining us today to help our listeners understand how they can build more trans-inclusive organizations.
Andy Marra (37:55):
Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure
Dolph Goldenburg (37:59):
Listeners, if you were not able to write down or remember transgenderlegal.org because you’re looking through your employee handbook to see whether or not gender, identity, and sexual orientation are included in your EEO policy, don’t worry. You know you can go to successfulnonprofits.com and get the link to TLDEF. And listeners, if you liked this conversation with Andy Mara, I would suggest that you listen to two other episodes. Episode 61: Engineering Equity into Your Organization with Daria Torres and episode number Episode 167: DEI: Leading By Example with Germeen Guillaume. That, listeners, is our show for this week. I hope you have gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.
Dolph Goldenburg (39:03):
I am not an accountant or attorney and neither I nor the Goldenburg Group provide tax legal or accounting advice. This material has been provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for tax, legal or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified, licensed professional about such matters.
** We have edited this transcript because how you listen is not how you read. If you have a problem