With Friends Like These.....
Phoenix Workplace Diversity – A Case Study in the Failure of Leadership

December 9, 2006
Donna Rose


Leadership – A Rare Quality

Leadership is often one of those complicated, abstract qualities that we often can’t quite explain in words. Many people seem know it when they see it, although finding true leadership among everything being sold as leadership can still be a challenge. Conversely, many of us can identify when it is sorely lacking when we see that, too. Unfortunately, there seem to be many more opportunities to observe the latter situation than the former, as far too many people seem bent on masquerading other lesser qualities for real leadership.

It is inherent to the word leader the people who are in these types of positions need to actually lead. They need to exhibit this increasingly rare quality, leadership, that would actually motivate others to want to follow (what is a leader without followers?), or at least sets them apart from others into a realm where others rarely venture. It involves courage.  It involves risk.  It involves vision.  Overall, it involves passion.

Sadly, these words – leader, leadership - are grossly overused these days. They have become tools used by self-appointed “leaders” who wouldn’t know true leadership if they fell over it. My 20-year old son teaches me new, hip words from time to time and one that seems particularly appropriate here is posers. We’ve got lots of posers where true leaders should be.

I’m going to share a story, and as I think you’ll see it’s a story is that’s full of those kinds of people. It is a sad story, made even sadder because it’s true. It demonstrates just how out of touch people and organizations that are in positions to demonstrate true leadership can truly be. The lessons learned go far beyond the specifics of this situation. As the GLBT community looks to the new Democratic majority in Congress I think we're going to be seeing more of this kind of unfortunate situation in the months to come.

Workplace Rights for Transgender Workers

Few people realize it, but it’s legal to fire an employee simply because they’re identified as “transgender” in 42 states. Most of us assume we’re protected by any number of ideals and rights in the United States. Actually, they don’t apply in all cases and it can be sobering to learn that people can lose their jobs or their homes just because someone doesn't like them. This is one of those cases. Transgender people, who often have a history of achievement and productivity throughout their careers, continue to be significantly unemployed and under-employed for no other reason than legalized discrimination.

Having and keeping a job isn’t simply a right, it’s something inherent simply to our person-hood. A job, or a career, is far more than simply a way to earn money to live, although that aspect certainly can’t be under-emphasized. More than that, though, it provides a sense of belonging, a sense of achievement, a sense of pride. For many it provides a reason to get up every day, it ensure that you’ve got someplace to be, and that you’ll be able to pay your bills at the end of the week. Each of us should expect a workplace that is free from harassment and discrimination.  Unfortunately, many cannot say that this is the case.

Getting and keeping a job can be difficult for anyone who is perceived to be different. Just ask handicapped workers or people of different ethnic backgrounds about their difficulties not only in the workplace but in day-to-day life. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender employees often face particularly harsh treatment in this regard due to the discomfort that our culture has with anything to do with sexuality or gender.

Still, recent years have brought a wave of recognition and support for the unique issues faced by many GLBT workers. Indeed, many of the gains in societal acceptance and integration for GLBT people stem directly from workplace gains. Although legislative efforts to support GLBT equality have been stalled due to any number of political and social realities, the workplace has made tremendous inroads into ensuring rights that others often take for granted. A major Dec. 2006 Fortune Magazine story entitled Gay Inc.: How Corporate America Fell in Love with the Gay Movement is a good indication of the visibility these efforts are getting in workplaces around the country.  Other recent articles in the magazine highlighting the hiring and spending power of the GLBT community provide even more proof (Courting the Gay Consumer, Gay-friendly Companies Reach Out to MBA's, Bringing Gay Media Out of the Closet, Wal-Mart Becomes Gay Friendly), and all highlight the integral role that GLBT workplace gains play in this equation.

When it comes to transgender workplace inclusion, the threshold of leadership can be reduced to 4 words: “Gender Identity and Expression”. Those words explain the deeply held feeling that each of us has about being a man or a woman who may or may not be reflected in our physical sex. They also encompass people whose expression may or may not conform to what others would perceive as being masculine or feminine. Masculine appearing women or feminine acting men face many of the same stigmas and discriminations that others in the broad transgender spectrum face.

Those four words (or, the less inclusive "Gender Identity") are the words that employers must include in their discrimination policy to protect employees perceived to be transgender. It has been proven that existing policies covering gender or sexual orientation do not cover these people or these complicated situations. As a result, those words MUST be added to the discrimination policy in order for a company to receive a perfect score on the HRC Corporate Equality Index, the de facto standard measurement tool for GLBT corporate policy.

Since the inception of the CEI in 2000, the number of employers who had added protections for their transgender employees has skyrocketed as companies have realized that existing protections don’t really apply.

                                                                (Source:  2006 HRC State of the Workplace Report)


More than simply ensuring that an employee is working in an inclusive workplace, this change says volumes about the value that an organization places on diversity and difference. Workplaces that recognize that diversity isn’t simply the right thing to do, but simply makes good business sense in an increasingly competitive market for talented resources and market share are truly stepping forward as leaders.

Of particular note in this regard is the story of Raytheon, the unlikely US aerospace giant. Until 2006 not one single company in the Aerospace industry had explicitly demonstrated support for its transgender workers. That changed when Raytheon not only added the necessary words to their non-discrimination policy, they did it loudly and publicly. News services around the world shared the good news about Raytheon’s diversity and they have deservedly been promoted to leadership status in this regard. Not surprisingly, other aerospace industry giants have since followed suit. One of the corollaries about leadership is that others will copy it.

Phoenix – A Case Study in Lack of Leadership

All that background brings us to the case at hand: the city of Phoenix and the effort to establish workplace protections.

In November 2004 I moved back to the Phoenix area after 4 years in Austin, TX. One of the major achievements during my time in Austin was that city updated their discrimination ordinances to include ‘gender identity and expression’. This was deep in the heart of TX, mind you, where other Texas cities like Dallas (2002) and El Paso (2003) had already passed similar protections. At the time, Austin became the 71st US city to pass these protections.

Currently, 8 states and 84 cities and counties have passed ordinances prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of ‘gender identity and expression’ (a current list is available here). Much of this work is done at a grassroots level by otherwise ordinary people who live there, who identify that this needs to be done, who engage the appropriate allies, who patiently educate about what this is and why it’s important, and who demonstrate the diligence to see it through. More than being the essence of leadership, this demonstrates tremendous courage, and is exhibited by everyday citizens in cities around the country.

Shortly after I arrived in Phoenix I met with the Executive Director of the Arizona Human Rights Fund (AHRF), the local state GLBT advocacy organization. There was very little transgender involvement in the organization and the leadership seemed eager to discuss how I could help. At that point – in late 2004 - I was already on the Board of Directors for the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, DC. I was a member of the HRC Business Council, and found myself very involved in GLBT workplace advocacy efforts around the country. I was no novice to politics, advocacy, or activism. Specifically, I was interested in working to implement those same discrimination protections here in Phoenix which is a significant hub for a very vibrant transgender and broader GLBT community.

Efforts to establish these protections were not new here. I was told a that how a local city councilman had vowed to spearhead the effort to update local discrimination ordinances but over the course of time other priorities came into the picture. In the end, I was told, nothing happened because initial advocates simply “dropped the ball” (his term, not mine) and there was nobody there to pick it up again. Nobody saw it as a priority. When I arrived, I vowed to change that.

In early 2005 a small group of local trans advocates (including myself, Becky Allison and Margaux) re-engaged the city councilman (Tom Simplot) to determine where things stood and what needed to happen to move forward. We engaged AHRF again, who identified a group of people that they wanted to be involved. We engaged the attorney at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) who specializes in working with communities around to country to enact trans inclusive ordinances. She provided a detailed analysis of Phoenix that included the specific wording in the existing Phoenix ordinances that needed to be changed.

All in all, we started a widespread effort to identify allies, put together an action plan, develop the tools necessary to make it as easy as possible, and begin working the plan.

Our strategy involved a 2-stage effort:

Working with this group, in early 2005 we started meeting with individual members of the Phoenix City Council to explain what we were doing and why. All indications were that we had enough support on the city council to make this happen.

Still, two things became apparent at the outset. First, if Mayor Gordon really wanted this for Phoenix he could have exerted a little pressure and made it happen without all this dancing. Phoenix earns a significant amount of revenue from GLBT residents and vacationers and this would have highlighted the city’s overall acceptance and inclusion. Second, if the city manager had exhibited even the teeniest amount of leadership in helping to implement this it would have happened, as well. Unfortunately, none of that was forthcoming.

I compare this attitude with other mayors I have met in recent years who truly do get it.  There's Mayor John Hickenlooper in Denver who opened the 2005 Out and Equal Workplace Summit there by saying "You don't need to sacrifice quality for diversity, and you don't need to sacrifice diversity for quality."  His approach and his personable nature have made me a fan.  Denver passed explicitly transgender-inclusive protections in 2001. There's Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley who opened the Gay Games there earlier this year.  Chicago passed transgender inclusive protections in 2002.  In fact, there are mayors all over the country whose leadership and passion in this regard are to be truly commended.  Apparently, not in Phoenix.

As time passed, the prospect of any substantive action was delayed time and time by a series of impending events where city hall didn’t want to take any chances of rocking the boat by doing anything that might be perceived as controversial. Two years ago the mayor was up for re-election so nothing was allowed to happen. Last year there was a bond election that included money for a GLBT center in downtown Phoenix so we were asked to be patient. We were.

The fact of the matter is that all we needed to make this happen was the approval of the city manager.  It didn't need a formal vote.  It didn't need to be debated in a public forum.  All it needed was for the City Manager, who is in charge of city workplace policy, to want it to happen and to make it so.  Discussions with the City Manager (Frank Fairbanks) earlier this year indicated that he was on board which seemed to be positive,  but my father always cautioned me to judge a person's true motivations not by what they say but by what they do.  Mr. Fairbanks indicated that he preferred to wait until after the state legislature session adjourned in April. April and then May came and went, and nothing happened. Then, it was election time.

This past November the big issue on the ballot here in Arizona was the fight over Prop. 107 which would have added language barring same-sex marriage or domestic partnerships to the state constitution. It was a huge deal here, and the proposition was narrowly defeated which was a major victory – so far the only one of its kind that wasn’t passed in the country. However, the election came and passed and still no movement on the transgender issue.

The Failure, and the Blame

At the beginning of December, after a number of phone calls asking for an update, the long awaited news finally came. City Councilman Tom Simplot’s office called saying that the City Manager (Frank Fairbanks) had written an internal letter to HR about transgender protections. In it, he basically said that he felt that existing protections for “sexual orientation” and “gender” were originally intended to also cover transgender employees and he saw no need to update the policy at this time. Tom himself didn’t call me, mind you. He had his office do it.

My initial reaction….you’ve got to be kidding! We waited over 2 years and did all that work for this??!! Where is the leadership? Where is the direction? I’ll tell you – it’s no place. From the mayor, to the City Manager, to the individuals that purport to be our friends on the city council. These are people who court support when they’re looking for money or votes but who are nowhere to be found when it comes to actually needing support.

Did they not read any of the documentation that we provided? Did they not do any research into best practices in this capacity? Or, perhaps they did and simply didn’t care. Whatever the case, the end result was a big fat zero. Nothing. A statement indicating that nothing has changed is not a victory. In this case it’s a total, complete failure.

As my father would have said, Phoenix and everyone involved somehow managed to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory”. This wishy-washy outcome completely disregarded all our hard work and guidance. It wouldn’t garner a single point on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index in terms of supportive workplace policy. It does not add Phoenix to the list of inclusive cities, counties, or states. Basically, the city did nothing, and despite what anyone says nothing has changed other the fact that those who should have been leading decided not to.

To top off this fiasco and make it even more galling, the local GLBT organization (AHRF) has somehow misguidedly decided that to trumpet this disappointing defeat as a victory, as though something constructive actually happened. Their recent Action Alert indicates that they feel they deserve credit for what has happened. There is no credit to be given here, only blame. If AHRF somehow provided guidance during their "relentless lobbying" that this letter would sufficient, or would somehow be ok, then indeed much of the blame lies there.

See this excerpt from the AHRF Action Alert dated December 10, 2006.

2. Phoenix Transgender Employees Gain Protections

After relentless lobbying by the Arizona Human Rights Fund, the City of Phoenix last week expanded its employee non-discrimination policy to include gender identity/expression. Phoenix lesbian, gay and bisexual employees have been protected since 1992 when the City Council amended its non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation.

“This change will protect the safety and livelihood of many Phoenix employees,” said AHRF Executive Director Barbara McCullough-Jones. “Not only will transgender employees be protected from unfair treatment, all employees will be free from harassment based on gender stereotypes. The City of has taken another step in valuing the diversity of its workforce."


Other than the statement that GLB employees have been protected since 1992 there isn’t a single speck of truth to this entire passage. It is pure fiction; pure spin. There are no protections. There is no change. In fact, it’s offensive to those who it affects most, and who know otherwise. It demonstrates just how out-of-touch this organization is with the transgender community or with GLBT workplace efforts in general. A more appropriate sentence would have been: "The City of Phoenix has taken another step in de-valuing the diversity of its workforce."  Frankly, it’s shameful.

I like to see things in the context of the bigger picture. For me, this is a defeat for diversity in general. This outcome is a statement for the status quo by people in position of leadership who have not led. It says volumes to me about the values of the city of Phoenix and the leadership there. The message I get from all of this is that i is not a place to live that is truly welcoming or inclusive for all. In the current climate of immigrant rights and inclusion for those who are “different” it is a political safe zone where politicians and organizations either too unmotivated or too afraid to push diversity any further than where it already is.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of all of this is that the city had an opportunity to step forward and take a position of leadership, and didn’t. If it already offers these protections, then why not get credit in workplace diversity and Human Rights circles where true inclusion is measured by “gender identity and expression”? This was low hanging fruit, right there for the taking. The “leaders” involved could have taken credit for vision and courage. Instead, we’ve got what we've got. When Phoenix could have leveraged this accomplishment, as Raytheon has so effectively done, what it has instead done is to demonstrate the opposite of diversity.

What can any of us do when faced with this kind of unfortunate outcome? Personally, I plan to do several things.

I encourage anyone reading this to share any thoughts you have and your disappointment with those involved. Urge them to show true leadership and work to update the policy as originally requested. Politicians won't act unless forced to do so, so your notes to them are important.  I share their contact information here for your convenience. This isn’t simply about transgender people or diversity or respect. It’s about leadership.  Or, the lack thereof. 

City of Phoenix  
Phil Gordon, Mayor mayor.gordon@phoenix.gov
Frank Fairbanks, City Manager frank.fairbanks@phoenix.gov
Tom Simplot, City Councilman council.district.4@phoenix.gov
Arizona Human Rights Fund  www.ahrf.org
Executive Director, Barbara McCollough Jones barbara@ahrf.org
Legislative Director, Amy Kobetta amyk@ahrf.org


Addendum [Added 12/11/06]

Since writing this two days ago, I have received the following news.  Once finalized later this week, it will increase the number of states protecting residents on the basis of 'gender identity and expression' to 9.  More than that, it demonstrates what can happen when statewide GLBT advocacy organizations, transgender activists, and political supporters effectively work together to achieve a common goal.  Of particular note is how the credit for this achievement is shared by all those who had an active role in this effort.  This is what it looks like when this is done right:


New Jersey set to become the third largest state in America, after California and Illinois, to have a statewide law outlawing discrimination based on "gender identity or expression"

New Jersey's law would protect the transgender community from discrimination across the board
Contact:  Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, cell (917) 449-8918; or Barbra Casbar, political director of the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey, cell (732) 887-8189.
BREAKING NEWS, Monday, December 11, 2006 -- By a vote of 31-5, the New Jersey State Senate has just passed a bill to outlaw discrimination against New Jersey's transgender citizens.   Voting "no" were five Republican Senators:  Bark, Ciesla, Kavanaugh, Littell and Palaia.   The New Jersey State Assembly is expected to pass the bill this Thursday.  
The bill would add a citizen's "gender identity or expression" as a basis for protection under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.  The bill has been a top priority for Garden State Equality, which has taken a number of bold measures to advance the bill; and for the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey, the statewide transgender organization.
In 2005 and 2006, Garden State Equality aired the first television commercial in American history on discrimination faced by the transgender community.  You may watch the commercial at www.GardenStateEquality.org and by clicking on Trans Equality on our home page. 
This past summer, Garden State Equality and GRAANJ held Equality Day at the State House, focusing on the transgender equality bill. 
In September, Garden State Equality, GRAANJ and New Jersey Stonewall Democrats produced a program on transgender equality at the annual Democratic State Conference.   
Several other organizations deserve tremendous credit for championing transgender equality, including the state's leading progressive blog, BlueJersey.com, as well as the NJLGC and the ACLU of New Jersey.   
"Passage of this bill has been one of Garden State Equality's top two priorities, along with marriage equality, from the very founding of our organization," said Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality.   "When it comes to discrimination against the transgender community, New Jersey sings with one voice:   We will not turn back time  Let us share equality for all."
Added Denise Brunner of Garden State Equality and GRAANJ:  "New Jersey needs this bill desperately.  Our state is facing a transgender discrimination emergency, with some of our citizens facing hundreds of job rejections each simply because they are transgender."  This past fall, the Democratic State Committee appointed Brunner deputy vice chair of the party, the first transgender New Jerseyan to hold so high a position. 

Across the United States, eight states currently have transgender equality laws, including California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Washington State, as well as the District of Columbia. 

According to the latest statewide poll on the issue, a 2005 Zogby-Garden State Equality poll, 70 percent of New Jersey supports the transgender equality bill, with only 19 percent opposed.  77 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of Independents, and 59 percent of Republicans support the bill.  Support is highest in the African-American community, at 86 percent.