ESG Matters: Pride Month

ESG Matters: Pride Month transcript

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Gabriel Leung:
Welcome to ESG Matters. A podcast series offering practical, useful, and inspiring ways for organizations to make positive and lasting environmental, social, and governance impacts. My name is Gabriel Leung, receptionist and LGBTI+ champion at Ashurst, based in New York. In this episode, we're going to be celebrating pride month and commemorating the ongoing pursuit of equal justice for the LGBTI+ community. I will be speaking with Evan Lam, finance regulatory partner and LGBTI champion, based in Singapore, along with Rachel Reese, director of Global Butterflies, a company created to bring awareness of trans and non-binary issues to the business sector, based in the UK. You are listening to ESG Matters.

To begin today's episode. I thought I might take the opportunity to provide a background on Pride Month and why we want to be talking about trans and non-binary gender awareness. Pride Month is widely known as a celebration for the LGBT+ community and a time where allies around the world show their support and solidarity of equal rights for all. In the US, the gay rights movement was catalyzed by the Stonewall riots of 1969, and soon after, Pride Month began to be celebrated in countries like the UK, Australia, and many more. From the 70s onwards, Pride Month became increasingly commercialized as acceptance towards the LGBT+ community widened with the recognition and legalization of gay marriage across various nations and increasing legislation on equal rights for the LGBT+ community.

However, the true forces behind the scenes for these milestones often go unrecognized and underappreciated. Gay liberation was not equally liberating for everyone. People of color, women, and trans people were often marginalized by the mainstream gay rights movement. In the US, much progress for the LGBT+ community was driven by trans activists, such as Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson. In the UK, trans visibility was bolstered by English model, April Ashley, journalist, Jan Morris, and actress and Bond girl, Caroline Cossey. In the same way that these activists and individuals in their representation formed the building blocks of pride month, today, in our podcast, we seek to create and hold space for men and women like yourselves to recognize, appreciate, and listen to what you may have to share with us from your own personal experiences. So, Evan, what is it like to be trans in Singapore today?

Evan Lam:
It's an interesting time, really, because there has been a huge amount of evolution in this space around people becoming more aware of their gender identity. A lot more trans people are starting to come out. We're starting to see a lot more representation for non-binary persons and just everyone, in general, being more comfortable coming out and saying they were trans. In comparison, basically when I came out, which was about six years ago now, it was a very different situation back then. I basically had no trans role models in the workplace or in my personal life. I didn't know anyone personally who was trans.

And right now, what we're seeing is that there are a whole bunch of students, for instance, in universities that are part of the wider LGBT network, but are also trans focused, trans specific. So, there's a huge amount of movement within the community to support itself to encourage other persons within trans and non-binary communities and just provide that level of support. But that's said, although the community is getting more organized, although it's getting... Because of that, it's also becoming more visible. And because of the visibility, we're also seeing more pushback.

Gabriel Leung:
How about you, Rachel? What is it like to be trans in the UK today?

Rachel Reese:
That's become a very complex question. Up to about 2017, we were on an ascent of trans rights and non-binary inclusion rights. I would say that we were very inclusive as a country. We were number one in the [inaudible 00:04:02] European [inaudible 00:04:03] table. Transgender was the word of the year. It was looking very rosy for the trans and non-binary community. I thought my job was going to be very easy, running an inclusion company. And then with the introduction of the governments consultation on self ID, American administration that wasn't terribly trans supportive, trans rights plummeted in the UK in the last three years. I think it was because we were so far advanced that we've now hit a backlash. This is our daily bread. And as a result, the United Kingdom's fallen to number 10 in the European rights, the LGBT rights. And rightly so, because we are hideous at it.

Gabriel Leung:
So sorry to hear that. And it is unfortunate that that is the kind of sensationalism that requires for progress to happen, right? For 2021, the theme of NYC Pride is, "The work continues." Progress requires active allyship and participation from all. There is no perfect ally, just empathetic people who are willing to put their ego aside, listen with an open heart and are willing to proactively create change within themselves, their own beliefs, and outwardly advocate and educate their colleagues and peers. How has allyship supported you in your lives. In return, what are your journeys as allies for other people in the community? Evan, do you want to start first?

Evan Lam:
I think it's pretty clear. When, as trans people, we walk amongst all of everyone else, we go to public places. We worry about our safety. We worry about access to healthcare. We worry all the time about whether or not we can get a job or whether we're going to get let go tomorrow. Because, we were, for many of us, our gender identity within our skin, it's either visible from the outside or it's visible in our records. It's not something that many of us can hide or get away from entirely. And on top of that, the quirk about gender identity is that it's also dependent, to a certain extent, on the external world recognizing and reflecting that gender identity back at us.

And so, we have particular issues that some other communities don't face, which is, for instance, in Singapore, a big thing is whether the state recognizes our transition, whether they're going to allow us to update our identity documents, whether it's going to then translate into the other rights that we would want to have, like the right to marry, the right to have property. We have seen cases where some of that has been rolled back. For instance, we've seen trans persons in Singapore who got married after transition because gay marriage is still not a thing here in Singapore. Their marriage has been annulled. Their house has been taken away from them and various other things have happened that, in any other place, we call the Human Rights Foundation.

So, allies play such an important role in that because, really, it's about the people, not just being friendly, having a friendly face to talk to, having someone who is on your side, which is, of course, incredibly important as well within the workplace within your personal life, but also the knowledge that society as a whole, it's able to come together and stand behind you to a certain extent and ensure that these rights that so many of us, so many people outside the trans community take for granted aren't simply overturned because of a few negative voices or a few angry people within society who are asking for all of this to be taken away just because, for some reason or other, they fear trans people.

Gabriel Leung:
Thank you, Evan. And I really think that at Ashurst, we try our very best to be active allies here as well. Role models are vital in the workplace. What makes a good role model? Rachel, do you want to start?

Rachel Reese:
Of course. Yes. Well, I mean, I have a saying that if you call yourself a role model or a trans ambassador, you're not. You can't go around just saying, "I'm a role model." That's not how it works. If other people call you a role model, that means that you are. And what role model is to me, the celebrity role model thing doesn't really work for me. I think what really works is people that are trans and non-binary in the workplace, in your sector, thriving and standing up and saying, "I've done this. You can do this."

When we did the Lloyd's of London guide, we picked five unknown trans and non-binary people to talk about their experiences in the guide. And that was an inspiration because, there they were, in the insurance industry, thriving as trans or non-binary people and sharing that they transitioned successfully, and they were performing really well in their jobs and having a good time. And that's what you need. You need, especially in law, where visibility is pretty poor, you really need trans and non-binary lawyers to be standing up and saying, "Hey, we're here. And you could be like us too. And it's okay." For me, those are the role models. I call them real models because that's what... As I say, people go around putting role model on their... That doesn't ring it for me. You've got to be a genuine person doing a role and thriving because that will help other people come forward. And that's what we need, that visibility.

Evan Lam:
Yeah. So, I see it from two angles. Fully agree with what Rachel said, which is, for trans people, definitely coming out, being out and visible is just incredibly important in community as small as Singapore. When I transitioned, there were no other trans lawyers that I knew of at all. I was basically looking at non-binary role models and getting comfort from them that they were able to survive in this legal environment. They were successful. It wasn't such a terrible thing [inaudible 00:09:41]. And that actually gave me a huge amount of courage to come out as well and live my truth, and I've never looked back or regretted that decision. So, that was incredibly important to me personally on my journey as well.

And I've seen that reflected as well in the junior lawyers coming up who have come up to me to ask me about my transition journey, who are exploring their own transition journey. And I think, not just trans persons, but cis persons as well. It's sort of rethinking the ideas around gender and gender expression, and kind of pushing back against some of the rigid rules that we have, that men should be a certain way and women should be a certain way, and building a more complete understanding of what gender is. And I think that's a journey that all of us are on as a society.

The sort of second other angle that I kind of came to look at role models from is really, as a trans person who was transitioning in the middle of my career, trying to... And as a transgender man, I was looking up to various men in the workplace as my role models and trying to identify the type of person I wanted to be. In law especially, we still have a lot of legacy issues around. It's a very male dominated culture. It's a very male dominated profession. We had bad role models, the people who would scream at other colleagues, at their clients who asserted their position through basically what we call toxic masculinity. And it was very clear to me that that was not where I wanted to be. And I had to go out and find role models who were mirroring the sort of values that I wanted to [inaudible 00:11:25].

Rachel Reese:
Yeah. I just wanted to add to that. That's really, really, really good points made there. I think the role model thing, you look at trans women in the 50s and 60s and 70s, and they were [inaudible 00:11:35] feminine and they were modeling that role of femininity. And I think that actually, as we are coming out more, as a trans woman, yeah, I'm getting married in a couple of months and you'll see the dress. I'm going to be very feminine. But, I like jeans and T-shirts. I'm building a flight simulator in my shed. I work on my 1985 West German Porsche at the weekend. I don't like that society's views of what femininity and women should be. I'm a 100% trans women. I know that with every fiber of my body.

In fact, you're not just smashing the stigma by being visible. You are resetting the society roles of gender and what that looks like. And I really think what Evan said was really point. I mean, as role models, you do change that view on society. Some of my female friends are airline pilots, that kind of thing. It's just smashing those stigmas of the standard views on role model of what gender should be. And that's part of that. And that's intricately been added in in the last 25, 20 years.

Gabriel Leung:
Absolutely. I think, in debunking the whole concept of role model into real models, it's the same thing with gender roles, what your gender real is. This is what it is. This is what this whole podcast is about. Rachel, you have talked about anti-trans rhetoric, at the eroding of trans rights in the US and the UK and around the world. Looking ahead, can you see any positives for trans people?

Rachel Reese:
Yes. I have to think about this one. But, my partner is an HR director at a big global company. And she is trans woman and is ever the positive person. And when we do talks together, it's kind of like Laurel and Hardy. Her view really is, obviously generational parenting is having an effect on the next generation on how they're being brought up. They've been brought up differently the way that we were brought up. And we have been doing some work with a lot of Gen Z delegates coming out. This is the next workforce, the next client base coming into the workplace. I thought millennials were quite... not challenging, but they challenged the workplace.

There's some statistics that say about 12% of millennials are non-binary, and that has changed the workplace for the positive. Well Gen Z, it could be 20% of Gen Z could be non binary. 50% of them see gender being very fluid. And they're quite demanding, and we've been training with some. And they don't really see what this whole issue is that my generation in the workplace is having with pronouns and identity. They don't really. They see identity as like, well, you're 5'10", you've got blue eyes and you're Irish and you're trans. Well, so what? They've really kind of [inaudible 00:14:20] it in, and that's really kind of nice and refreshing. And that's why companies are sort of like, "We've really got to do something because our next workforce and our clients are changing." So, Gen Z, the parenting with Gen Z, the next workforce coming in is going to have a big outward effect. So, this gender critical movement pushing back are going to be outnumbered in the workplace soon.

And then my final thing is corporate allyship. This is my day job every day of the week, I'm up at Sundays. Governments are really bad at this, but a lot of corporate companies coming out of lockdown are going, "What are we to the climate? What are we going to be with our workforce? We know a diverse and included workforce is better for business. Our clients are diverse and included. We need to change." And I think that that, I think that companies are. In every one of our courses we bang on about where's your logo, how you work, what are your systems and processes? Where's the health care? All that kind of stuff. That corporate allyship is beginning to see fruits from that from a lot of very big brands and firms who were just talking the talk.

And they're moving from what we call corporate service responsibility, which can be a bit of a whim of the managing director to corporate social justice, where we're saying, right, these are our measureables. We're going to come to terms with our past. It hasn't been good. We're going to lay out some foundations for the future. And we're going to bring in groups to judge us against those foundations to see how we've done. And that is corporate social justice, and a lot of organizations are moving towards that.

Gabriel Leung:
Absolutely. And I think out are the days with performative allyship and in are the days with active allyship, right? And I really liked that word change because responsibilities, people can shirk. Justice, you can't really escape that. It's out in the open, right? Evan, what are actions we can all take to support our colleagues inside and outside of the workplace?

Evan Lam:
Yeah. So, the first, I think it's, baseline is quite important, is always respect the pronouns that person uses. Always respect the name that they choose. In Singapore, especially, it may not be the same name that's on their official identification. It may not be the same gender marker, what you expect, looking at the gender marker on their identification. And we need to get over that hump where we just follow what's ever on the official ID and just look at people as people. And I think this is fundamental, not just for trans persons, but for every one of our colleagues that we deal with. We need to look at them as who they are.

But, that is absolute baseline. I think we can do a lot better than that, which is, I think we can start, especially in Singapore, we are kind of reluctant to talk to people. And we need start getting out of that shell and start connecting with others and just walking with them on their journeys and asking how they are. If they are comfortable, eventually they'll start opening up about their journey and their difficulties. And that's when we start to really build understanding and empathy. And once we have understanding and empathy, that's when we can move forward into more active allyships because that's when you can understand the issues that they go through.

So, when I went through this journey, myself, so many people kind of went, "Okay. You've changed the name. You've changed your pronouns. We respect that." And your issues as a trans person are basically over. I said, no, this is really the beginning. There's so much else that I need to do, so many other hoops I need to jump through in life, which is so much more difficult for me as a trans person than it is for someone in your position. They didn't come out of this out of a place of malice, but out a place of ignorance.

And I think that's where we need to start. Greatest thing an ally can do at the beginning of their journey is start by educating themselves. Firstly, takes such a huge amount of work off the plate of the trans person, because it's really exhausting for us to have to go out and repeat our stories or educate people. And when we are talking about the basic 101 things like pronouns, we can't get to the more important topics like our rights, gender recognition, health care access, mental health issues, and all that because you're so busy talking about the basics. And every ally can take that step to progress that conversation to educate others as well. But, I'm firm believer that any initiative does need to be trans-led when supporting a trans community, or it basically needs to be led by the community that it does represent. But, allies can play such an important part in finding out how they can help.

Rachel Reese:
I don't have much more to add to that. But, what I will say is that one way you can support your colleagues, you've got to allow allies to get close to this subject. You've got allow allies to learn. So, this really is a message to trans and non-binary people, that when they make mistakes, don't stamp all over them. Because, they will make mistakes. They're human beings, not robots. So they might get your pronouns wrong. Sometimes, they do that. They'll apologize, hopefully, and move on. But, if you to stamp on them, in some companies where they're learning, when we train, they were saying, you will make mistakes, and admit to them. But, as long as you're not doing it with bad intention, that's fine. But again, from our side of trans, from the trans and non-binary community, mustn't stamp all over corporate companies that trip while they're learning because otherwise they'll go, "Trans is so hard. We're going to walk away from this," and we lose what could be a very strong ally.

So, there has to be a coming together of the ally side and the trans and non-binary community. It's very hard where we've been so battered. Our rights are being eroded. I'm a very angry person. Who knew? And I can get very passionate. And so, it's very easy for us to get annoyed with somebody that gets our pronouns wrong, or a company that makes a mistake. But, what I always trying to say to my colleagues is feedback, but don't be angry about, hit the emotion out because they have to learn. Otherwise, we'll lose allies and we don't want that. It's the same with the LGBT community. A lot of LGB people aren't the greatest ally to trans. And there's been a lot of division, especially with things like the Alliance, the LGB Alliance in the UK trying to split T away from LGB. And that's what they do. They try to push that away. So again, when LGB people are learning about trans rights and coming close, don't stamp all over them. Let them, if they make a mistake, they are trying to learn so they can support us.

Gabriel Leung:
Thank you both so much for your time. And even in preparing for this podcast, I've learned so much. And even just being here today, you've both expanded my mind and understanding of how to be a better ally and also just who we are as people, and what we can all do as a community to help others be on our side. And at the end of the day, there are no sides. We're all just trying to grow as people and trying to make the world a more inclusive place. So, thank you again for your time.

Rachel Reese:
Thank you very much, Gabriel. Thank you, [Lee 00:21:00].

Evan Lam:
Yes, thank you, Gabriel.

Gabriel Leung:
Thank you for listening to this special edition of ESG Matters. To hear more ESG Matters episodes, including our 30 for Net Zero 30 series, please visit To ensure you don't miss future episodes, subscribe now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform. While you are there, please feel free to keep the conversation going and leave us a rating or a review. Thanks again for listening and goodbye for now.

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