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Transgender Advocate Trains Local Companies And Agencies On Gender Identity

Nadege Green
Aryah Lester trains local companies and agencies about gender indentity.

Transgender people are more visible in the media now, thanks -- in part -- to celebrities like Laverne Cox , Janet Mock and Caitlyn Jenner.

And in the past year, the Human Rights Foundation found an increase in the number of people who say they know or work with a transgender person.

Aryah Lester is a transgender advocate here in South Florida. She talked to WLRN’s Nadege Green about educating local agencies and employers about gender identity.

Below is an edited excerpt of their conversation

When it comes to diversity training around LGBTQ issues,  what have you seen change in recent years?

A lot of initiatives that's pretty much categorized LGBT have had little to no emphasis on the transgender portion. One, the transgender portion has so little to do with the L-G-B because L-G-B has to do with sexual orientation and who you’re attracted to.

The transgender part is actually who you are. It has to do with identity. I find that a lot of organizations, companies, people and governmental agencies are trying to pull out more education on what does it mean to be transgender.

You talk to local businesses on what it means to be a transgender inclusive workplace. What are you telling them? 

One thing we try to tell employers is that trans friendly isn’t just saying, "We’re OK if you’re trans." It’s knowing how to be respectful to a trans person, changing your forms to actually be inclusive of other identities outside the gender non-binary system.

The gender binary system is the system that we have where we only have two boxes to put people in, male and female. There are many peoples that exist outside that gender binary system.

You've  also worked with the Transportation Security Administration, also known as the TSA. Last year, a transgender woman traveling through Orlando International Airport live tweeted her negative experience with the TSA. Walk me through a recent training you had with TSA agents from Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Well, I did a recent training that was coordinated by the Department of Justice where we really focused on the process that a trans traveler goes through, how a TSA agent can be respectful to a trans person within that process and to make everything go smoothly on both ends.

For example, when you go through your first screening you show your ID and ticket. That ID may have a gender marker or name that differs from what that person is presenting. We were able to give them examples that this is a trans person’s life so that agents can be more empathetic with what that person is going through when they come up to the line.

You’re training local agencies and business on how to avoid discriminatory practices against transgender people, but as a transgender woman have you also experienced some of the things you caution against?

Yes. I’ve experienced a lot of discrimination. Giving a person my ID and them saying, "You're a man."  No. I'm not a man. I was assigned male at birth. Ultimately, a transgender person at a very, very early age realizes their gender identity.

There are hateful, bigoted people, but we need to understand that there are other individuals that are open to being educated and those are the people that we're targeting with training so that they can dole that out to their circles and their networks in order to make it more respectful all around.