Thursday, March 19, 2009

Conversation with my company's HR

I had a meeting today with one of the high-ups in my company’s Human Resources (HR). I wanted to talk about insurance stuff and policy stuff. Specifically, I wanted to raise 2 issues with him: I wanted the phrase “gender identity and expression” added to the clauses in the non-discrimination policy, and I wanted to get medical expenses covered. Sweety and I were hoping that we could talk the company into covering the expenses of my facial feminization surgery, currently penciled in on our schedule for mid August.

I started with the easy one – “gender identity and expression”. He told me right off that they’re about to launch a new Diversity webpage within the company, and the draft page, which he pulled up on his computer, shows “gender and gender identity” as one of the items on the list along with all the other standard stuff. And they’ll be adding it to all the other appropriate spots in the policies.

They’re also developing a set of guidelines for transitioning employees, their managers and departments. This won’t be actual policy, and I agree I don’t think it needs to be, but it will be official corporate guidelines, and any harassment is covered under the anti-harassment clauses.

So, all that’s pretty good. I’m happy with that resolution.

Next up, insurance coverage, where the big $$$ are.

I made my pitch, that more companies are covering trans medical costs (see HRC’s Corporate Equality Index). Many big companies now cover the whole shebang – Microsoft and IBM and some of the aerospace companies. (My company is in an odd category – we’re called an FFRDC – Federally Funded Research and Development Corporation. We’re a not-for-profit, we’re not government, but we’re not really a private company either. Anyway, we’re not considered an actual part of the Federal government. There are only a handful of FFRDCs around the country. ). I told him that the AMA has come out recommending that all insurance companies should be covering trans-related expenses. Unfortunately, neither the Federal government nor any state government to my knowledge covers trans-related medical stuff yet.

However, this AMA statement is key. This puts the trans stuff in a different category than other “elective” procedures. Insurance routinely doesn’t cover cosmetic surgery, because it’s “elective”. That’s why folks can’t get insurance to pay for new noses or boob jobs. It’s “elective” – you didn’t really need that, you just wanted it. But now (actually, last year), the AMA has come out and clearly moved transgender procedures out of the “elective” category, which is part of recommending that the insurance companies start paying for them. The AMA statement was clearly focused on transgender procedures, so, cosmetic surgery with no trans aspects will still be considered “elective” and excluded from most insurance coverage.

So, he was receptive, and liked the arguments. I asked, we’ll probably be covering these expenses 20 years from now, right? And he agreed. So, I said, we’re just talking about when, aren’t we?

I also made the point that, after August, I’d be willing to serve as a transgender liaison with HR for other folks who are trans in the company. And regardless, I’ll be asking for these benefits every year. He seemed quite okay with that.

Bill has been in HR for a long time, and was apparently behind the proposal to get same-sex couples here covered under company insurance. That apparently went into effect a year or two ago, but it took them 2 or 3 years to get it all the way through corporate levels. Yes, there are conservatives up there, and I guess this stuff bothers them. Eventually, they’ll die off, that’s my theory. The question is whether you can change some of their minds sooner. Maybe yes, maybe no. (Firesign Theater, album: “How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All”, story: “The Further Adventures of Nick Danger” – quiz: what character said that line?)

Anyway, I was pretty nervous going in, but I had all my material, printouts I left with Bill, and we got to know one another a bit. Bill is African-American, and understands that there are similarities here in terms of equal rights for a minority. And trans folk are definitely the minority in a minority.

So, it looks like the company won’t be covering my expenses later this year. However, I’m the first person to have brought up the topic of transgender health insurance coverage with the company, and now they’re thinking about it, so, that’s something. Yay me. I’m sure they’ll eventually be covering trans medical expenses, the question is when. And I did get some real progress – they’re adding “gender identity” to the official policy, and pretty soon too.

No, correction: they’ve already added “gender identity” to the official definition of Diversity, and it’s being added into policies very soon. So, we have one more company that recognizes "gender identity" as important.

Enough for one day. I need a glass of wine.

Cheers, everyone

Sunday, March 15, 2009

We're Back from the Keystone Conference

Hey folks,

We drove back from Pennsylvania today, we were at the Keystone Conference.

Some trivia:

This is a new conference on the block, the TransCentralPA folks decided they'd put on on, and this was their first go-round, and a job well done.

"Keystone" has nothing to do with the cops from the old b & w movies. For my Australian readers (I know there are at least 2 of you) - most, if not all, American states have some sort of nickname, and Pennsylvania calls themselves the "Keystone State", cause they feel they were crucial in founding America.

We got up there Friday afternoon, and everybody went out to dinner on restaurant row - they'd made reservations for like 16 folks each at 5 different restaurants. Yummy food, and they had a cool little jazz duo playing there, and we were all out on the dance floor and we had the place hopping. Then our friend said we should all go over to this ultra cool little tapas restaurant and bar, so we did, and it was barely 1 room big, we overwhelmed it, so we stood around and got thru one drink then Sweety and I caught the shuttle back to the hotel and crashed.

We were part of a panel discussion at the first session on Saturday morning, 9 am, so I wore one of my new pants suits (navy pinstripe), and we had a good time. Hit another session, and had a great lunch with a wonderful talk by Mara Keisling (she's head of NCTE ). She is a very good leader in trans equal rights, and is very funny, one of the best dry senses of humor I've heard. Very good talk.

Sweety and I actually skipped the early afternoon session and hit the exercise room, then cleaned up for the late afternoon session. Then, back to the room for the fancy clothes, and we had a great reception, dinner, speech by Donna Rose (yes, the TransCentralPA folks got a couple of big hitters for their first time out of the gate, well done girls), and more party. I brought this red dress that a friend gave me (when she had her top enhanced, she couldn't fit in it anymore, and did I ever benefit). Here's a pic of Sweety and me at the Saturday nite party.

Sweety and me.  Yeah, my dress is a hand-me-down.  I like the way I look!

Oh, and yes, I did get a haircut Friday morning before we left town. I do like it, it was kinda long and ratty at the ends, however, I'm not sure I can get it to stay in a ponytail for work tomorrow... heh heh. Ooops.

Okay, now here's the amazing part:

Background: Our local group helped host the IFGE conference here in town at the beginning of Feb. (Oh, I just realized, I never posted a good summary of what happened at our local IFGE conference. Okay, will fix that later). So, Sweety is helping with the conference on Sat, while I'm running the registration table. So, she's walking past the meeting rooms, hallway full of folks, and she looks up and sees someone, a guy she recognizes from work, dressed to the nines as a good looking woman, just as this person sees Sweety and recognizes her. Well, other person goes into full panic, cause they're not out and here they've run into someone from work - absolute death, right? And Sweety instantaneously thinks of exactly the right thing to say "It's okay - my husband's trans", and everything is okay. so, that's the IFGE part.

Now, Sat. AM at the Keystone, we're standing there, and this girl walks up, says, "well, it's about time I said hi" and I don't recognize her from any past group, and she holds out her name badge and the first name says "S-----". Okay, so what? Then I see the last name in small print, and go "Oh. My. God." It's a co-worker from about 13 years ago. We were at the same company, just a few doors apart, from like '93 to '98 or so. I went to teach at university for awhile, "he" left with a bunch of others guys and started his own company. Now, "she" saw me Friday nite, I didn't recognize her at all, so she came and really said hello on Saturday morning. In my defense, a) I never knew she was trans, b) he was like 50 lbs heavier (wonderful slimming), and c) he always wore glasses. She's only recently been really dealing with trans-ness, and this was her first big trip out. So, we spend most of the rest of the conference hanging out and trading stories and such. There were only about 60, 65 folks in this office of our company, so, if 2 of us were/are really trans, does that mean the actual percentage in the population is like over 2 % ? or is it higher? More on our new friend later as this new phase of the friendship grows. Oh, and another aspect: we actually played Fantasy Football together for like a decade, well after we both left the company. Really outrageous and amazing.

And,S, if you're reading this, Hi Hon. It was a pleasure and a real honor to make your acquaintance. For real. ;-)

So, IFGE was Sweety's turn to be surprised, and Keystone was apparently my turn. What can happen next?

So, we're back home. It's kinda odd how we're meeting and becoming friends with all these folks who are apparently pretty high up in the trans-activist organizations. One friend, who as far as I knew 3 months ago was just another trans woman, has since been elected to the chair of the IFGE board and is also on the NCTE board. And we know Mara Keisling, and more importantly, she knows us. And we know the leaders of at least 2 local/regional groups, and .. and .. and... the current pres of our local board is stepping down as Pres this June, and there's no one willing to take up her spot. I've been asked. I'm hesitant, cause I'm going full time in Aug/September, with facial feminization surgery in August (and recuperating the rest of Aug), but... we were looking over the rest of the members, and I just don't know who else can do it. And Sweety has talked about taking on the Outreach position - responsible for making sure that someone appropriate shows up to talk to groups who want to learn more about transgender/transsexual stuff. Just don't know right now.

Ah, sigh. I'll welcome comments and suggestions - should I throw my hat in the ring for the job? Whacha'all think?

hugs all around