LGBT+ History Month – Supporting your transgender colleagues in the workplace

Christian Owens - Credit - Merseyside Police
Christian Owens

Founder of Genderspace

Christian Owens is a former Detective Sergeant in the police force, and a transgender speaker who uses his own personal journey to educate and inspire individuals and organisations through his own company GenderSpace.

In this blog, he shares his experiences of transitioning at work, what he learned, and the lessons he can share with other organisations looking to support their transgender employees.


My own journey of transition​Supporting someone who is LGBTIQ+ Web page Sadly, people who are not straight or cisgender are more likely to experience mental health problems than the general population. This web page from Mind explores what you can do to help if an LGBTQI+ person tells you they are experiencing poor mental health.Free By: Mind View resource has been a lifelong journey since childhood. I always knew who I was, and I knew from a young age that I wasn’t comfortable with my sex assigned at birth, which was female. My parents allowed me to be who I wanted to be. It wasn’t until I got older and started to feel different and less accepted that I started to struggle.

Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s was difficult, due to discriminationDiscriminationSometimes people who have mental health problems are treated worse at work because of their mental health condition. This is called discrimination and, if you experience discrimination at work, you may have a legal right to challenge it. [Mind]Find out more, and the lack of acceptance. Due to this, I put off and delayed my journey of transition, trying to block it out as much as I could, but it never went away.

It was my identity, and it was never going to go away.

I couldn’t continue as I was

Due to a lack of diversity and representation in the police when I joined, I was too scared to be myself, so I tried to hide my true identity and conform in the best way that I could. In 2012, I finally found the strength to begin my transition openly and publicly in the workplace, after three years of tentatively socially transitioning in private. I describe that as my breaking point, knowing that I couldn’t continue as I was, as I was so unhappy, and this was affecting my mental health and wellbeing​Ten ways to support LGBT employees Web page Glassdoor have written a short article featuring 10 simple steps you can take to ensure your LGBTQI+ colleagues are included and represented at work.Free By: Glassdoor View resource.

Going into work on that first day as Christian was one of the scariest days of my life. I walked from the train station to police headquarters, the place where I was going to be working in a new role. I felt in a state of panic, almost like I couldn’t breathe and I just wanted to go home, but I knew that wasn’t an option. The first days, months and years were very difficult. I did experience inappropriate behaviour and discrimination​Things not to say series – LGBTQI+ issues Playlist or series Mental Health at Work have created a YouTube playlist featuring six BBC videos which focus on LGBTQI+ people, including tips on what not to ask gay or trans people.Free By: BBC Three View resource. I felt lonely and isolated at times and had to dig very deep in order to get through each day.

A police officer

In a strange way beginning my transition and finally taking that huge leap and significant life changing decision actually improved my mental health, as I was no longer trying to conform and pretend to be someone else. But nothing could have prepared me for what was ahead.

At the beginning of my transition in policing, support was quite limited, and this was due to a lack of understanding and education. I was the first serving officer to transition within the organisation and it was a steep learning curve for all involved. How can you possibly provide positive welfare support to someone if you don’t fully understand their journey? But there were a number of colleagues and some senior leaders who did reach out and genuinely wanted to support me.

This did improve with time and learning, but I just feel that the organisation wasn’t equipped to deal with me or my journey at that time. This is one of biggest reasons that when I felt able to, I started to use my voice to educate and enlighten people.

Sometimes the simple things are overlooked when supporting someone’s welfare

What was really important to me was that those colleagues who did support me had open and transparent conversations​How can you have the right conversation to support an employee at work? PDF As a line manager, it’s important to recognise how to manage the emotional wellbeing of employees at work. This two-page guide from Nuffield Health explores five key steps to help staff move from emotionally barely surviving back to thriving.Free By: Nuffield Health View resource with me. They put themselves out of their comfort zones, dropped any barriers or fears that they had and enabled us to speak openly together. And at times, that was all that I wanted, just to be able to speak about what I was going though and have someone to listen to me.

It sounds so simple, but sometimes the simple things are overlooked when supporting someone’s welfare and wellbeing. It’s one of the takeaways that I always leave people with when delivering my journey to audiences – create safe and supportive conversations. Don’t wait for someone to come to you, just provide that opportunity by letting them know that you’re there and we can talk about anything at all.

Two employees chat over a coffee

When it comes to providing support in the workplace, the emergency services, like many organisations, can be a very demanding place to work, with many responsibilities and stressful roles. So, when someone is questioning their gender identity, or in the process of transitioning, in addition to this pressurised workplace, it is so important that they feel accepted, included, and supported.

Here’s my top tips for supporting the mental wellbeing of trans people in your workplace:

  • Education – to provide trans awareness and education to all staff, providing them with the relevant insight, preferably using lived experience, so that they can fully understand the best practice in how they can support trans people and their welfare needs.
  • Internal staff support networks​St Mungo’s Diversity Networks PDF Networks are a great way of connecting staff who have similar experiences and backgrounds. At St Mungo's, there are several different groups offering support and advice.Free By: St Mungo’s View resource – that are trans inclusive and provide trans people with an opportunity to have their voices heard and celebrated. Ally programmes can include people and points of contact who are trans allies and advocates who can provide appropriate support to trans people in the workplace.
  • HR & Welfare Support – appropriate HR, Occupational Health, and Psychological Support to be advertised and available to trans staff to access. This is essential when considering and embarking on a journey of transition in the workplace in order to maintain and support mental health and wellbeing. Knowledge of resources is crucial in order to signpost, support and safeguard.
  • Create inclusive guidance documents, policies, and application procedures – this will provide advice and support to both the trans person and those who are responsible for supervising and managing them and ensure that trans people are not hindered or discriminated against even as early as during the application process.
  • Use of gender inclusive language and pronouns​Conscious language guide Web page The words we choose to use matter. This guide, from Healthline, covers a range of sensitive topics and discusses how to talk about them in a way which is empathetic, honest and inclusive.Free By: Healthline Transform View resource – lead by example with your behaviours and use of correct legislation, confidentiality procedures, language, and pronouns. This will create an inclusive culture and respect for trans people at work.
  • Tackle inappropriate behaviour and discrimination faced by trans people in the workplace. Ensure that this is challenged and dealt with accordingly to increase reassurance and confidence and to promote a robust message of compliance.
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