Sacred Fire Creative hosted an online forum on creating workspaces inclusive to members of the LGBTQ+ community. Titled “Make It Happen: LGBTQ+ Inclusive Workspaces,” guest speaker Catherine V. Hyde led the conversation.

About Catherine V. Hyde

Catherine V. Hyde, pronouns “she” and “her” (not to be confused with author Catherine Ryan Hyde), has worked in social justice for 25 years. Her personal LGBTQ+ story started when her child, then aged four, told her that something had gone wrong in her belly and that he should have been born a she. Catherine didn’t listen and didn’t understand what it meant until PFLAG educated her on gender identity.

Afterward, Catherine became a strong ally of the LGBTQ+ community. A leadership coach and a trained public speaker, she speaks and trains on transgender understanding and sensitivity. Moreover, she is focused on sharing resources that will help expand support for the community. Catherine serves on the PFLAG national board of directors. She has also testified before the US Senate LGBT caucus on safety issues facing trans youth.

Catherine stated that the single, most defining aspect of her life has been the parenting of a transgender child. Her daughter is now a 28-year-old woman, but she transitioned at 15 years old, long before transgender issues became part of the zeitgeist. Additionally, her daughter was the first child in the Howard County school system to transition openly. Catherine said this experience exposed her to her cisgender white woman privilege.

According to Catherine, society was built to make white women like her comfortable and happy. Because privilege means you don’t know it when you have it, and you only know it when you don’t, she didn’t realize that she had privilege until she came to know better. She gained that knowledge through her social justice work with Enterprise Community Partners and with the LGBTQ+ community.

To expand our understanding of the LGBTQ community and how we can build inclusive environments, Catherine set the following goals for the forum:

  • To review some basic terminology to make sure everyone is comfortable
  • To explore our own gender journeys
  • To have a quick insight into being LGBTQ+ at work
  • To identify some concrete steps that we can take to make a more inclusive environment
  • To brainstorm action steps that we can implement immediately at the office.

Basic terminologies

Catherine defined the following terms:

LGBTQ+ means lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and beyond.

Sexual orientation doesn’t mean the same as sexual preferences. Nobody got to vote as to how their bodies were made for sexual orientation.

Lesbians are women who find themselves primarily sexually attracted to other women.

Gay is a universal term for the community and a term defining those who identify as men who find themselves sexually attracted to other men.

Bisexuals are people who are attracted to both men and women.

Asexuals are people who have no sexual drive.

Pansexual is sometimes used interchangeably with bisexual. However, the word “pansexual” gives more of a nod to the fact that gender is a spectrum, as opposed to a binary. Thus, pansexual are people who are romantically and sexually attracted to people regardless of their gender.

Gender identity is where the term “transgender” comes in. Compared to our gender assignment at birth, gender identity is how we identify ourselves on the gender spectrum. A transwoman is someone who was assigned male at birth but identified as female on the gender spectrum, like Catherine’s daughter. A transman is someone who was assigned female at birth but identified as male. The prefix “trans” simply honors their identities. And then there are folks whose gender identity agrees with the gender assigned to them at birth. A quick little caveat: The word “transgender” is not a noun. It’s an adjective.

Gender expression is a phrase not everyone is familiar with. It’s essentially how we wear our gender—our hair, makeup, clothing, anything that may trigger gender associations. Catherine pointed out that the accepted or expected gender expression changes over time and across cultures. One example she gave was when she was young, very few women had tattoos, and men don’t wear earrings. Today, many women wear tattoos, and many men wear earrings.

Non-binary are people who don’t necessarily feel like they’re all male or all female. They may be a little bit of both, or they feel like they are neither. Some feel like they’re tri-gendered, according to a study by The Trevor Project. Around 25% of LGBTQ+ youth today identify as non-binary. They’re just not happy with those clear-cut square little boxes that we’ve tried to put in place for them.

Two-spirit is used by some indigenous or Native communities in American to express their relationship with the non-binary gender system.

Catherine invited the participants to take a look at the glossary at The Trevor Project. She added that she finds the glossary fascinating. The glossary also changes very quickly these days because young people are constantly bringing in new ways of looking at the issues.

Gender-clear vs. gender-fluid

Catherine shared her own story about gender journey. She described herself as a huge baseball fan. When Catherine was six years old, she desperately wanted to be a boy. There were three very clear reasons in her mind why she wanted to be a boy. The first was her father had more power in the house than her mother did. Second, her brothers had fewer chores than she and her sisters did. Third, she knew she could have been a ball boy at Memorial Stadium for the Baltimore Orioles, which was the height of her six-year-old ambition. To do all of those things, she knew she had to be a boy, so she wanted to be a boy.

She later realized that what she really wanted were the privileges associated with being a boy—the access to power, the privilege of fewer chores, and access to be a ball boy. It wasn’t a gender identity issue; instead, it was more of a gender expression issue.

Catherine said this makes her a little bit gender-fluid. She’s not way over, girly-girl, gender-clear. She would have been perfectly happy if you mistook her for a boy.

On the other hand, Catherine’s husband was recreating Civil War battlefields in his driveway at the age of six. He was all Boy—girls had cooties, they’re disgusting and nasty, and you shouldn’t go anywhere near them. He was gender-clear.

Catherine said she took the time to tell this story because, in the transgender community, there are trans folks who are a little bit more gender-fluid, while there are those who are more gender-clear. According to her favorite quote about diversity and communities, there’s more diversity within any community than between two communities.

So, in the cisgender community, we have people who are butch females or effeminate males. We’re going to have those same-gender expressions in the trans community. Thus, we may have a trans woman who is kind of butch.

According to Catherine, 20 years ago, when sexual realignment surgery was beginning to be more available, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore did a lot of work on it. However, they would turn down for that surgery anyone who wasn’t identifying as a typical female. Thus, a trans woman assigned at birth as male but understood herself to be female and wanted to have this surgery to align her body with her identity wasn’t allowed to have that surgery if she happened to be attracted to women. She wasn’t considered straight enough or normal enough woman to get that surgery. There was no acceptance of diversity within the trans community.

Catherine said that was why she took some time to dwell on the issue of gender-fluidity. This is to make sure that we don’t paint the people we meet in the trans community with a broad brush, put them in a box, and then move on. That’s just not how you make an inclusive workplace.

The gender spectrum game

Catherine made the forum participants play a game she called the gender spectrum game. It involved plotting your own gender using the four separate facets of the gender spectrum:

Female Intersex Male
Gender Identity
Hear Me Roar Woman Man Macho
Gender Expression
Female Androgynous Male
Romantic Attraction
Masculine Sensitive Men Sporty Women Feminine

Catherine plotted herself as assigned female at birth and “hear me roar” as her gender identity (in reference to a Helen Reddy song) because she’s a feminist and an activist. Additionally, her gender expression is around female or androgynous, though she expressed herself between androgynous and male for years. As for her romantic attraction, she tends to cluster at the left-hand side of the scale.

Catherine also plotted her husband: assigned male at birth, gender identity between man and macho, gender expression male. She joked that she hopes his romantic attraction is sporty women because if it’s feminine women, he missed the mark and didn’t get the right girl.

As for her daughter, Catherine plotted: assigned male at birth, gender identity woman, gender expression is feminine, romantic attraction sensitive men.

Catherine observed that her husband tends to cluster to the right-hand side of the spectrum while her daughter bounces a little. She pointed out that many of us do cluster on one of the poles, though many don’t.

Catherine said she likes to tell people who are about to have children pretend there’s a slot machine arm at the edge of this spectrum. When you have a baby, you’re going to pull it, and that kid is going to fall somewhere on these four scales. You don’t get to choose where.

She encouraged the participants to try out the game with other people. That’s because the game can make for great conversation starters.

Again, she emphasized that gender expressions change over time. As an example, she shared that she grew out her hair after her husband asked her to. She had been sporting a pixie cut for 20 years and found that she liked having longer hair. In addition, gender expression may change depending on our environment. There will be times when we may feel freer to be creative with our expressions, and there will be times when we feel we have to conform.

We all have a gender identity. Very few of us actually have to unpack it or think about it. This is an opportunity to do so. Catherine invited the participants to think more about their gender journey and encourage other people to do so. It’s amazing how restrictive those boxes are to so many people, and it feels like it’s only been in recent decades that we’ve been even allowed to think about it or question and ask about it. It’s becoming more and more important to the kids. And they’re becoming more and more part of our workforce.

Understanding DEI

Catherine noted that the difference between diversity and inclusion is this: Diversity means “I see you, and I acknowledge you.” Inclusion means “I’m with you.” Inclusion is a far more proactive stance, and it’s far more intimate. It’s far more humane when we can be fully inclusive.

inclusive workspaces

Equality vs equity. Image by Angus Maguire | Interaction Institute for Social Change

There’s also a difference between equality and equity. Catherine used the above image to illustrate this difference. The left side shows equality, where everyone got a box for watching the game. One didn’t need their box because they’re tall enough to watch the game without it. For one, however, one box wasn’t enough for them.

On the right side, the same number of boxes were there. But they were distributed according to need, so everyone could fully participate as a spectator to the game. This illustrates equity.

LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workforce

Catherine noted that the youth, as they always do, are leading the way in making the workplace more inclusive. Straight Gen Z and Millennial employees deeply care about inclusion, and the work that companies do around inclusion will benefit the growing LGBTQ+ community. According to a Gallup poll of Americans, some 5.6% of Americans identify as LGBTQ+, and 16.6% of them are among Generation Z. Thus, the young people are taking permission to erase those boxes and just say who they are.

The poll also shows that six out of 10 employers say that diversity and inclusion are a priority. But only one in three have initiatives or policies created to reflect it. The rest are only paying lip service to try to be with the in folks these days. However, it’s not real, and it shows up in the workplace.

Some 40% of LGBTQ+ employees are still closeted. Some of that is by preference, but some of that is out of fear. They wish they could be out, but they don’t feel comfortable being out in the environment at work. Some closeted employees report less engagement and less productivity than those who are not closeted.

Additionally, 75% experienced at least one negative interaction related to their LGBTQ+ identity at work within one year. Some 41% experienced 10 incidents—that’s almost once a month. If you’ve ever been the recipient of someone questioning or denigrating your very identity, that blows the wind out of your sails so quickly, and it takes a long period to refill the sails. So, once a month is taking an awful lot out of our employees.

Exercising influence

Catherine names the areas where we can exercise our influence to make our workplaces more inclusive.


We certainly have influence over what we do and what we say. What we can do personally is to use our pronouns—by introducing ourselves with our pronouns and by adding them to our name on Zoom. It opens up the conversation and tells people we want to use the correct pronouns for them, and we’re inviting them to share those pronouns.

Gender-inclusive language

We can also use gender-inclusive language. Catherine shared that she gets tired of seeing forms that ask for the husband’s signature or the wife’s signature. Instead of identifying as husband or wife, what about as a spouse? For son and daughter, child will do. We have siblings for brothers and sisters. The gender-neutral term for nieces and nephews is “niblings.”

Identify your own bias

We also need to identify our own biases. Catherine suggests taking the implicit bias tests at Harvard’s Project Implicit, which will help us learn about ourselves. We can’t check our assumptions if we don’t know what our assumptions are. We need to take the time to dig them out and learn about them so we can check them culturally and expand that reach beyond ourselves.

Start a resource group

Catherine said if we don’t already have an LGBTQ+ and allies resource group at work, we need to start one. She learned recently that the first employee resource group created was by the LGBTQ community, and she found that fascinating.

She also recommends getting training, giving training, and getting more training. If we get trained, we take away something we’ve learned, bring it back to work, and share it. We can also bring trainers in and have people come and talk to our teams if that’s our area of influence at work.

Bringing in speakers gets us to hear different stories. The human brain is wired to learn from stories. Moreover, the more stories we share, the more stories we hear, the more we can learn.

Implement non-discrimination policies

Catherine said we could exercise influence by structuring non-discrimination policies for sexual orientation and gender identity. She noted, however, that if it’s written doesn’t mean it will be followed. But if it’s not written, you know it won’t be followed. Nonetheless, we need to make sure we have those policies in writing, and they are communicated clearly.

Catherine gave trans-inclusive health benefits as an example of policies that need to be in writing. Companies should have trans-inclusive health benefits, as they give trans-identified employees the ability to transform their bodies to more appropriately reflect their understanding of themselves. These benefits should also cover employees’ children who identify as trans.

Trans-inclusive health benefits can include cross hormone therapy or hormone blockers. They can also make room for top or bottom surgery. And because of the way we are so gendered in our medicine, sometimes a health insurance company might deny a mammogram for someone identified as male or refuse a trans-woman a prostate exam. We have to take care of the parts we have, and that’s not always done through health care.

Public commitment to the LGBTQ+ community

Catherine said that making a public commitment to the LGBTQ+ community speaks volumes. She gave Marc Benioff as a specific example. Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce and a pioneer of cloud computing, famously made a stand against Indiana when they passed a religious freedom act that codified the ability to discriminate against LGBTQ+ if it was based on your religious beliefs. He said Salesforce won’t be coming to Indiana, and he has canceled all travel there because his workforce needs to only work and go and travel in places where they are protected.

Questions asked and stories shared during the forum

Is there a third gender?

Catherine said she wouldn’t limit it to a third. There are as many gender identities out there as there are people. She said it’s great that this question comes up because it shows that people are thinking way outside the box, especially with the community’s younger members.

Identifying female

One of the participants shared that she wished she was a girl when she was growing up. She felt really embarrassed talking about it because she was never really open about it. She also hid it from her family because she grew up Catholic, and she was afraid they would judge or disown her.

But she always played with girls’ stuff like Barbies and makeup, which she said is why she’s so good at makeup now. She also realized that she was depressed a lot, and the reason for that is she was identifying as somebody else. Then she moved out, became a little more comfortable with her surroundings, and began identifying as female. She’s so happy about it, and she feels blessed that she has a family who accepted it.

Didn’t like to be called “tomboy”

One of the participants shared that she always thought she was a girl and identified as a girl. However, because she specifically liked sports, her family and peers always told her she was a tomboy. She didn’t like it and found it frustrating to be called one.

A father’s challenge

A participant shared that he’s the father of two daughters and is trying to be conscious about possibilities. He said he’s working hard to bring the work to his parenting. Additionally, he acknowledged that while it was tricky, he doesn’t really have a choice when it comes to his daughters’ gender identities.

Catherine replied that he, as a parent, indeed doesn’t have a choice, and neither do his girls. She said she likes to remind parents that the only option they have is whether or not they’re going to accept and celebrate their child. She shared that in her work with trans-people and trans-kids, she has never met a trans-child who said upfront that they are trans. It’s more like they get uncomfortable, afraid, and depressed until they can acknowledge and be who they are. A gift that a parent can give their children is absolutely unconditional acceptance and love, which can help with the acknowledgment.

Uncomfortable with attention

An audience member shared that around the age of eight, she became more interested in sports. She grew up with a father who was very focused on sports, and she played soccer instead of her brother. The more sports she played, the more competitive she got. However, she noticed early on that whenever she came out to play, she got more attention because she’s female and has always identified as so. The attention made her very uncomfortable.

A girl who loves playing with boys’ toys

Another audience member shared that one of the things she noticed as a kid was that she was always gifted with girly toys and dolls. However, she thinks dolls are terrifying and still do to this day. All she wanted were matchbox cars and comic books, but of course, they weren’t considered proper for a little girl to play with. So she would steal her brother’s toys because they were more fun.

Made him a feminist

A participant related that he grew up in a small town in the 1960s. It was a gendered time, and as a boy, it constantly reinforced his discomfort with it. He saw how his younger sisters and other girls were not treated the same. They were booted from sports and other activities and often segregated from the rest. This experience, he said, made him a feminist.

A non-inclusive workplace experience

Another participant shared that at her former workplace, she worked with four other people. Two of these co-workers asked her not to share her LGBTQ+ status with another co-worker, who was a religious, black-and-white thinker—a white Christian male. He didn’t understand anything beyond his whiteness. He didn’t even acknowledge Black Lives Matter.

He would bully everyone whose behavior was unacceptable to him. So he won’t give everyone else a hard time, the other co-workers asked her to keep quiet about her status. The participant felt it was unfair because the others could bring their wives to work, while she couldn’t bring her female partner. Eventually, the white Christian male co-worker found out anyway and became hostile with her about it. She thought, if the company would keep that co-worker despite his behavior, then she could not stay. And so she left.

Catherine said this is a poignant example of what we had been talking about in this forum. By not being inclusive, you will lose a good portion of your workforce. It’s not just people who identify as LGBTQ+, but also those who want to be in a place where everyone is welcomed. Bullying is bullying, whether you’re bullying someone in the schoolyard because they have the wrong haircut or you’re bullying someone because of their different abilities or their identity. It’s insufferable, and it should not be tolerated. And that is why DEI work is so important.

Sacred Fire Creative continues the conversation on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity. Check out these scheduled events and join the conversation: