Skip

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Special Emphasis Program

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Program Manager is responsible for providing GLBT awareness and education to NRCS employees and partners while focusing on such issues as employment, retention, promotion, training, career development, and advancement opportunities affecting GLBT applicants and employees at NRCS.

The GLBT Emphasis Program is an integral part of the overall equal employment opportunity (EEO) program and is designed to:

  1. Ensure that gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people receive equal treatment in all aspects of employment.
  2. Increase the number of GLBT people employed in all professional, administrative, technical, clerical, and other categories, series, and grade levels.
  3. Provide opportunities to participate in training, career development, and leadership programs.
  4. Encourage the participation of GLBT populations in all NRCS-sponsored programs and activities.
  5. Provide a network of professional support for GLBT.
  6. Provide mentoring support to GLBT in the workforce.
  7. Educate all NRCS employees by raising the level of awareness of GLBT workplace issues and concerns.

Q&A: Sexual Orientation in the Workplace

Why are these guidelines being provided?

It is USDA policy and the policy of the Federal Government to treat all of its employees with dignity and respect and to provide a workplace that is free from discrimination - whether that discrimination is based on race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity and gender expression), pregnancy, national origin, disability, political affiliation, marital status, membership in an employee organization, age, sexual orientation, or other non-merit factors.

The purpose of this document is to provide guidance to address some of the common questions that have been raised regarding the employment of transgender individuals in the Federal workplace. USDA's guidelines are based on the Office of Personnel Management guidelines issued May 27, 2011. These guidelines are supported through Departmental Regulation 4230-002, signed in June 2009 by Secretary Vilsack, which created the USDA Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) Special Emphasis Program (SEP) and the USDA Civil Rights Policy Statement, amended in June 2011 by Secretary Vilsack, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.

What is Sexual Orientation?

Everyone has a sexual orientation. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines sexual orientation as an emotional or affectional attraction to another person. This includes heterosexuality (attraction to the opposite sex), homosexuality (attraction to the same sex) and bisexuality (attraction to either sex). A person's sexual orientation emerges during adolescent development and is not the result of a conscious choice. The APA states that individuals can choose whether or not to act on their feelings, but cannot voluntarily change from one orientation to another.

What is gender identity?

Gender identity is the individual's sense of being male or female.  Gender identity is generally determined in the early years of an individual's life and, if different from the individual's physical sex characteristics assigned at birth (the body parts associated with what people generally deem "female" or "male") may result in increasing psychological and emotional discomfort and pain. The way an individual expresses outwardly his or her gender identity is frequently called "gender expression", and may or may not conform to social stereotypes associated with what is generally accepted as looking and acting like a man and looking and acting like a woman.

What is transgender?

Transgender individuals are people with a gender identity that is different from the sex assigned to them at birth.  Someone who was assigned the male sex at birth (born with a penis) but who identifies as female is a transgender woman.  Likewise a person assigned the female sex at birth (born with a vulva) but who identifies as male is a transgender man.  Some individuals who fit this definition of transgender choose not to use the adjective transgender and simply call themselves men or women, consistent with their gender identity.  The guidance provided in this document applies whether or not a particular individual self-identifies as transgender.

What is transition?

Some individuals will find it necessary to transition from living and working as one gender to another. These individuals often seek some form of medical treatment such as counseling, hormone therapy, electrolysis, and reassignment surgery. Some individuals, however, will not pursue some (or any) forms of medical treatment because of their age, medical condition, lack of funds, or other personal circumstances. Managers and supervisors should be aware that not all transgender individuals will follow the same pattern, but they all are entitled to the same consideration as they undertake the transition steps deemed appropriate for them, and should all be treated with dignity and respect.

What does transitioning involve?

The World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH), an international organization devoted to the study and treatment of gender-identity-related issues, has published the WPATH Standards of Care, which explains gender transition as a process that may include therapy, hormones, and possibly surgical procedures, or any combination of them.

How does the transition process occur?

A transgender individual's gender transition will usually proceed in the following order. First, the individual will meet with a mental health provider to ascertain what transition steps are most appropriate to address the lack of congruity between his or her gender identity and the sex assigned to him or her at birth. Second, after appropriate evaluation and counseling, the individual may begin a course of hormone therapy, usually under the supervision of both a mental health provider and an endocrinologist. Third, after a period of time on hormone therapy, an individual will be ready to commence the "real life experience", which is when an individual transitions to living full-time in the gender role that is consistent with his or her gender identity. It is at this point that an employer is most often made aware that an employee is transgender and undertaking a gender transition.

What should I know if a supervisee is undergoing transition?

Gender identity health care providers recognize commencement of the real life experience as often the most important stage of transition, and, for a significant number of people, the last step necessary for them to complete a healthy gender transition. As the name suggests, the real life experience is designed to allow the transgender individual to experience living full-time in the gender role to which he or she is transitioning. Completion of at least one year of the real life experience is required prior to an individual's being deemed eligible for gender reassignment surgery.


How do I manage confidentiality and privacy information for the transitioning employee?

An employee's transition should be treated with as much sensitivity and confidentiality as any other employee's significant life experiences, such as hospitalization or marital difficulties. Employees in transition often want as little publicity about their transition as possible. They may be concerned about safety and employment issues if other people or employers become aware that he or she has transitioned. Moreover, medical information received about individual employees is protected under the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. 552a).

How do I respond to questions from supervisees or other co-workers about the employee?

Agencies, mission areas, managers, and supervisors should be sensitive and advise employees not to spread information concerning the employee who is in transition: gossip and rumor-spreading in the workplace about gender identity are inappropriate. Managers can provide general information, but personal information about the employee should be considered confidential and should not be released without the employee's prior agreement. Questions regarding the employee should be referred to the employee himself or herself.

What can I expect after being notified by an employee that he or she is preparing to undergo transition?

Employees who begin the "real life experience" stage of their transition are required under the WPATH Standards of Care to live and work full-time in the target gender in all aspects of their life, which includes dressing at all times in the clothes of the target gender. Once an employee has informed management that he or she is transitioning, the employee will begin wearing the clothes associated with the gender to which the person is transitioning.

How is a transitioned employee affected by agency dress codes?

Agency dress codes should be applied to employees transitioning to a different gender in the same way that they are applied to other employees of that gender. Dress codes should not be used to prevent a transgender employee from living full-time in the role consistent with his or her gender identity.

Is training available for employees who are directly or indirectly impacted by the transition?

If it would be helpful and appropriate, employing agencies may have a trainer or presenter meet with employees to answer general questions regarding gender identity. Issues that may arise should be discussed as soon as possible confidentially between the employee and his or her managers and supervisors. For more information about training, contact the Department's LGBT Special Emphasis Program Manager, Perry Stevens, at perry.stevens@dm.usda.gov.

How do I address or refer to the transitioned employee?

Managers, supervisors, and coworkers should use the name and pronouns appropriate to the employee's new gender. Further, managers, supervisors, and coworkers should take care to use the correct name and pronouns in employee records and in communications with others regarding the employee.

Why is it important to consistently address or refer to the employee by their new gender?

Continued intentional misuse of the employee's new name and pronouns, and reference to the employee's former gender by managers, supervisors, or coworkers may undermine the employee's therapeutic treatment, and is contrary to the goal of treating transitioning employees with dignity and respect. Such misuse may also breach the employee's privacy, and may create a risk of harm to the employee.

What restroom facility should the transitioning employee use?

The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (DOL/OSHA) guidelines require agencies to make access to adequate sanitary facilities as free as possible for all employees in order to avoid serious health consequences. For a transitioning employee, this means that, once he or she has begun living and working full-time in the gender that reflects his or her gender identity, agencies should allow access to restrooms and (if provided to other employees) locker room facilities consistent with his or her gender identity.

While a reasonable temporary compromise may be appropriate in some circumstances, transitioning employees should not be required to have undergone or to provide proof of any particular medical procedure (including gender reassignment surgery) in order to have access to facilities designated for use by a particular gender. Under no circumstances may an agency require an employee to use facilities that are unsanitary, potentially unsafe for the employee, or located at an unreasonable distance from the employee's work station. Because every workplace is configured differently, agencies with questions regarding employee access to any facilities within an agency should contact USDA's Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) for further guidance.

What are the recordkeeping ramifications for an employee who has transitioned to a new gender?

Consistent with the Privacy Act, the records in the employee's Official Personnel Folder (OPF) and other employee records (pay accounts, training records, benefits documents, and so on) should be changed to show the employee's new name and gender, once the employee has begun working full-time in the gender role consistent with the employee's gender identity. See 5 U.S.C. 552a (d). Instructions for how to reconstruct an employee's OPF to account for a gender change are set forth in http://www.opm.gov/feddata/Ch4_ReconstructPersonnelFolder.pdf.

How are the employee's insurance benefits impacted by the gender transition?

Employees in transition who already have Federal insurance benefits must be allowed to continue their participation, and new employees must be allowed to elect participation, in their new names and genders. If the employees in transition are validly married at the time of the transition, the transition does not affect the validity of that marriage, and spousal coverage should be extended or continued even though the employee in transition has a new name and gender. Further information about insurance coverage issues can be found on the web at http://www.opm.gov/insure/index.aspx, or by contacting the relevant OPM insurance program office using the addresses found at http://www.opm.gov/insure/contact/index.asp.

What if I need more information?

The guidance provided in this document is of necessity general in nature, so managers, supervisors, and transitioning employees should feel free to consult with their human resources offices and the USDA Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) to seek advice in individual circumstances.

For further guidance on these issues, contact USDA's Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) Special Emphasis Program Manager (SEPM) Perry Stevens at perry.stevens@dm.usda.gov.

Why is sexual orientation a workplace issue at USDA?

Employees should expect to find a diversity of sexual orientations at USDA. In the past, it was common practice to fire or to refuse to hire suspected homosexuals in the Federal workplace. Employees have been physically threatened, verbally abused, and subjected to hostile working conditions. Laws and policies have changed, and all USDA employees need to be aware of their responsibility to prevent this form of discrimination and to ensure that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) individuals are an accepted and valued part of the diverse USDA workforce.

Why do some people need to talk about their sexual orientation at work?

Sharing aspects of one's personal life with coworkers is a normal part of everyone's workday. Conversations about spouses, friends and family help form bonds of mutual respect and trust that support a productive workplace. Unfortunately, many GLBT employees do not discuss their personal life at work for fear that they will be rejected, harassed or threatened by other employees, thereby damaging their opportunities for advancement and promotion. Therefore, to enhance the productivity of ALL employees, it is just as important for GLBT individuals to be comfortable to speak about personal issues and matters as do other co-workers.

What if my religion says that homosexuality is morally wrong?

The USDA workforce includes a diversity of religious views, and discrimination on the basis of religion is prohibited in the Federal workplace. This means that no one can or should ask an employee to change his or her religious beliefs on homosexuality. Conversely, this also means that religious objections to homosexuality cannot be imposed on other coworkers or be used to obstruct nondiscrimination laws, policies, and diversity activities.

What are the laws and policies that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination at USDA?

  • The 1978 Civil Service Reform Act states that Federal Agencies cannot "discriminate for or against any employee or applicant for employment on the basis of conduct which does not adversely affect the performance of the employee or applicant or the performance of others" [5 USC 2302(b)].
  • Presidential Executive Order 13087, issued in 1998, provides for "a uniform policy for the Federal government to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation."
  • The Secretary's Civil Rights Policy Statement has prohibited sexual orientation discrimination at USDA since 1993.

What should I do if I believe I have been discriminated against because of my sexual orientation?

There are five avenues of redress available to a Federal employee who wishes to resolve a conflict or file a complaint of discrimination based on sexual orientation: (1) Alternative Dispute Resolution; (2) Agency discrimination complaint procedure; (3) Agency or Union grievance procedure; (4) Office of Special Counsel; and (5) Appeals to the Merit Systems Protection Board (for allegations involving personnel actions that are otherwise appealable to the Board). The employee who wishes to pursue conflict resolution or file a discrimination complaint using one of the above options should contact his or her Agency's Office of Civil Rights for specific information.

Does USDA offer domestic partner benefits?

GLBT employees of USDA can share some Federal employee benefits with their domestic partners. For example, domestic partners can be designated as beneficiaries of an employee's Thrift Savings Plan and life insurance policies if the employee files the appropriate beneficiary forms. Insurance, retirement, and long-term health care benefits cannot be shared with an employee's domestic partner by law and regulation.

What can I do to make USDA a better workplace for GLBT employees?

GLBT coworkers should be welcomed and valued members of your work unit. Acts of harassment or threats against GLBT employees should be reported immediately to your manager. Employees should refrain from GLBT jokes and negative comments. An individual's sexual orientation should not be a factor in hiring, promotion, evaluation, and work assignment decisions. Finally, the Department needs the thoughtful attention of every member of the USDA family in order to create a work environment where GLBT employees are safe, respected, and able to share in the full responsibilities and benefits of employment.

Where can I go if I have further questions about sexual orientation issues at USDA?

  • Gay and Lesbian Employment Program Manager, USDA, OHRM, Whitten Building, Room 108 1400 lndependence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250; Phone: (202)-720-9664
  • You can also contact your Agency's Civil Rights and Human Resources Offices for further information on complaint procedures, benefits, and local events and activities.