MICHAEL WOOWARD IS A SPEAKER, LECTURER, CORPORATE TRAINER, PEER COUNSELLOR, AND COACH ON MATTERS OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND GENDER IDENTITY AND EXPRESSION.
For over 13 years you have been a principal consultant on LGBTQ inclusion and have spoken on the issue across the USA. What does that role involve?
I’ve been doing this work in some capacity since the 1990s. In the early 2000s, I started focusing on education and training around gender identity and trans inclusion, working with employers, educators, and healthcare providers and administrators to understand cisgenderism and heterosexism at the institutional level (even within LGBTQ organisations), how marginalisation impacts health outcomes, and how to create more inclusive organisations, clinics, policies, and curricula. Sometimes that involves conducting training or giving a talk; sometimes it is an extended look at policies and procedures, employee engagement, and many other things. It really depends on what the client needs; I try to meet folks where they are and build from there. I also coach individuals or groups who are trying to figure it all out, either trans/ LGBTQ folks or their loved ones, friends, and allies who want to be supportive.
It can be argued that we have come a long way in terms of LGBTQ rights. What more needs to be done?
Sooooo much! LGBTQ Americans are still living without full constitutional rights. We need to immediately pass the Equality Act and codify LGBTQ rights by amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity. No real national protections currently exist for us, which is why conservatives have been able to get away with these egregious, hateful legislative and administrative attacks on trans kids and trans women in the last few years. The Equality Act, which has already passed in the House, addresses public accommodations and facilities, education, federally funded programs, employment, housing, credit, and jury service. But like so many other monumentally important issues like voting rights, despite wide popularity, it can’t get through the Senate without breaking the filibuster.
The Equality Act isn’t perfect and it won’t automatically fix everything—and it certainly won’t stop the haters from hating, but it is a critical step in protecting people’s lives and livelihoods.
How important do you think it is to be out at work – and indeed in the wider community – and what advantages does being out have, both on a professional and on a personal level?
I think it’s a very personal decision and completely depends on your individual circumstances. While I encourage folks to be brave and not let their own fears get in the way, those of us who are privileged enough to be out often take it for granted and forget that it can still not be safe for everyone.
That said, it is personal connection that makes the biggest difference in how cisgender straight people feel about LGBTQ people. Visibility is important in busting myths and those who know someone personally tend to be more open to equity and inclusion than those who don’t think they know anyone gay or trans. But, of course, they do, because we are everywhere.
What steps can an employer take to create a genuinely inclusive and diverse work place?
You have to start with the right policies and the right practices. Use the right words and know why they are the right words. (See your question at the end for a good example…) Be sure your benefits are not inadvertently exclusive or inappropriately gendered. Also, inclusion being taken seriously starts at the very top and must be demonstrated through action, not just words. Form an employee affinity group to advise or, of course, hire a consultant to help you navigate.
Describe your typical day.
Things have changed quite a lot since the pandemic, of course. Previously I would spend a lot of time on-site with clients; now it is almost all virtual. That is both good and bad. It saves a lot of time and a lot of travel expenses, but we have lost that sense of connection and comradery that being in physical proximity to the same group of humans day after day brings. That also impacts the work environment and how we interact with each other around inclusion.
Either way, my day usually consists of meetings with leadership and other stakeholders to discuss policy recommendations and develop implementation plans; researching and writing (or rewriting existing) inclusive policies; reviewing marketing and recruiting materials; providing cultural competency training; conducting climate surveys, answering questions; keeping up with advocacy efforts around the country; sometimes giving speeches; and every now and then even performing a song or two!
On a personal or professional level, what has been your proudest achievement?
The thing that always makes me feel good is when a former client or student finds me sometime down the road and tells me how much I changed their perspective, or helped them navigate a situation at work or to accept their child’s request for “they/ them” pronouns. I know I have literally saved a few lives over the years, just by being myself, sharing my story, and living my life openly and without shame or fear.
Which are your preferred pronouns?
My pronouns are he/ him/ his, but they are not “preferred,” they are just my pronouns, period. A person’s pronouns aren’t optional. “Preference” in regard to identity is pejorative.
“Preferred pronouns” is akin to the old “sexual preference” and goes in the “don’t” category.