Celena Morrison called it “affirming” to have the City of Philadelphia put forth guidelines to support transgender city employees. Morrison, who has served as executive director for the Office of LGBT Affairs since 2020, is the first openly trans person to lead a government office.
“I always say it is great when you have the first but I think it’s more important that I’m not the last and having these types of guidelines in place show folks that the city is doing the work, especially right now,” Morrison said, noting anti-trans legislation in states across the country.
The guidelines, which are in effect now for city employees, are entitled Supporting Transitioning Employees: Guidelines for Best Practices. The Office of LGBT Affairs worked with the city’s Human Resources department to develop the internal document, and the two offices are currently working to develop training sessions as an additional way for employees to retain the information.
City employees can access these guidelines on the city’s intranet while a public-facing condensed version is available on the Office of LGBT Affairs’ website. Both documents include definitions for “transgender” and “transitioning” and “declared names” vs. “legal names.” Additionally, the policies include information on uniform dress codes, gender-inclusive restrooms and general principles on speaking to trans employees, including pronoun etiquette.
PGN spoke to Morrison and Deputy Director of LGBT Affairs Erik Larson about the guidelines and the catalyst for putting them forward.
Morrison said the office heard concerns from city employees who were having difficulties navigating the process of transitioning. However, she also noted that supervising managers reached out to the office directly. These superiors asked how to best support their employees who were either trans or going through the process of transitioning.
“There was very little information on supporting transitioning employees and what did exist wasn’t consistent across city departments,” Morrison said. “So we wanted to change that and provide some support for those supervising managers and also the transitioning folks that may be coming to work for the city.”
Morrison said that apart from the usual administrative challenges that come with putting together these types of guidelines, there was “no pushback” from city officials. She said this “falls right in line with the administration’s dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
While there was no pushback, Larson said the Office of LGBT Affairs also took steps toward illustrating how these guidelines can “affect a broad swath of our city employees and not what — some may imagine — is a small segment.” This includes employees who are married but choose to go by their previous surname or those who go by shortened versions of their legal name, such as using “Dave” instead of “David,” in professional settings.
“It was useful for us to be able to illustrate — to HR leadership and people from across the city who work in a myriad of departments — that this can be valuable to any of your employees, not just folks who are within the LGBTQ+ community, which I think is a valuable tool to gather buy-in on something that’s as comprehensive and large as this,” Larson said.
With these guidelines in place, city employees will be able to speak with their direct supervisor about how to proceed through transitioning while working as a city employee. However, they will also have a direct HR representative to speak to should they feel unsafe around their supervisor. On that note, Larson said that HR will pursue punitive actions against those who intentionally misgender or deadname an employee. Furthermore, he said the document outlines how employees can have a communication plan to help them proceed through the transition process and protect themselves from wrongdoing.
“We’re trying to be proactive with this policy by making sure that folks have communications plans in place, that they’re documenting their interactions if these things are going awry, that people have a strategy for how they’re going to effectively roll out their transition while on the job,” Larson said. “It’s making sure that we don’t get to the point that folks are intentionally [engaging in] wrongdoing. And if we do get to that place, there is documentation of what has occurred to that point, because that helps include HR in their process as well.”
Morrison noted the message these guidelines send to the residents of Philadelphia.
“This is another way to show that [the city is] intentionally doing what we’re here to do, fostering working and living conditions for our LGBTQ folks, which is our mission,” Morrison said.