Friday, October 2, 2015

Federal Executives Grapple with New Gender & Orientation Policies in the Workplace

"You know, you're ruining your career."   
"Why is the government wasting their money taking care of those people?" 
"I feel like spitting on you." 
These and other comments were received by federal employees working to abide by new federal workplace policy mandates, including acknowledgment of LGBT Pride Month in June. Government administrators now face diversity and inclusion challenges with the national passage of marriage equality along with high numbers of transgender clients coming forward within particular federal programs.

The South Florida Federal Executive Board, one of 10 intergovernmental executive leadership assemblies established nationwide by John F. Kennedy in 1961, invited YES Institute and Jan Dapprich from the Miami VA Hospital LGBT Program to co-present at their 6th Annual Quad Conference. 

Held at US Southern Command Army Headquarters in Doral, a wide variety of federal administrators and HR leaders from departments such as Customs & Border Protection, Federal Aviation Administration, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Veterans Health Administration, the US Army, and numerous other departments attended our sessions. 

Joseph Zolobczuk, Director of Education & Janet Dapprich, VA Health Education.
Janet Dapprich, MS Ed., Veteran Health Education Coordinator for Miami VA Healthcare System, and outgoing LGBT Special Emphasis Coordinator, shared about her experience spearheading the Miami VA Hospital climate shift over the past three years. 
"Thanks to the training I received from YES Institute's Communication Solutions™, I learned the importance of beginning this initiative as an open dialogue – first and foremost. We assured our people we were not asking them to change their personal values or beliefs. This is a conversation about keeping all our Veterans safe and included." 
– Janet Dapprich, Veteran Health Education Coordinator  
Janet also shared about the startling findings from two recent research studies that showed individuals at VA healthcare centers are being diagnosed with gender dysphoria at five times the rate compared to the general transgender population (Blosnick, et al., 2013) while also receiving increased access to treatment due to the policy changes and patient advocacy efforts in recent years (Kauth, et al., 2014)

The rate of suicide-related events among transgender Veterans is more than 20 times higher than rates for the general VA population (Blosnick, et al., 2013), which has an already increased suicide risk due to post-war trauma and other factors. 

YES Institute speakers shared about the challenges of being federal employees dealing with their social identities in an ambivalent or even stigmatized work environment. 
"One year I put up a poster asking for voluntary donations for an HIV fundraiser at my workplace," shared James Gross, PhD., a former employee with NOAA. The next morning, someone had ripped the poster down. As a gay male who lost my partner to HIV, not only did they tear up the poster, it felt like they also tore up my heart." 
Umut Dursun, MA.
Umut Dursun, MA, shared, "As a US Marine serving under Don't Ask Don't Tell, I was in constant fear of being dishonorably discharged. I loved serving my country. And the irony was I could serve as long as I told a lie about myself every day. I was up for re-enlistment, but instead chose to complete active duty after four years. Inauthenticity wears at you like a cut that won't heal." 
Umut and Jim interacted with attendees about ways to address these topics in the workplace and also how to deal with upset and conflict. "The willingness to open a spontaneous dialogue and allow people to express what they are already thinking and feeling – but don't get to authentically express out loud – can go a long way in readying the workforce to see value in these new policy changes," shared Joseph Zolobczuk, MS Ed., YES Institute Director of Education. 
"Your ability to present in such an interesting way produced one of the most memorable presentations in the conference's history. I personally appreciated how both of you engaged participants in an open dialogue before beginning to educate us," wrote Jacqueline Arroyo, Executive Director of the South Florida Executive Board.
YES Institute has consulted and presented to agencies across four federal branches, including FCI Miami (US Department of Justice), Miami Port CBP Officers (US Department Homeland Security), SAMHSA's TA Network (US Department of Health & Human Services), and several VISN-8 region hospitals (US Veteran's Affairs). 

View a copy of the South Florida Executive Board post-conference letter

To schedule a presentation for your own organization or agency, visit our Community Dialogues webpage or call 305-663-7195 (weekdays 9am-5pm). 

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Written by Joseph Zolobczuk and Umut Dursun. 

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