Activist Tate Smith warns that businesses aren’t ‘thinking ahead’ on trans inclusion

Trans activist Tate Smith is posing for the camera. He has on a green shirt with a white shirt underneath.

Ahead of the PinkNews Trans+ Summit next Thursday (11 May), legal secretary and activist Tate Smith is sharing his insights on navigating the legal space and activism, how Gen Z will impact inclusion strategies and how trans and non-binary people are supported at work.

Achieving total inclusion at work is a long road. Business leaders need to take a proactive approach and consider the needs of Gen Z employees in their diversity and inclusion (D&I) journey. In just two years time, Gen Z will make up over one-quarter of the entire working population. Additionally, a higher proportion of people aged 16 to 24 identify as LGBTQ+ than any other generation, making it crucial to include Gen Z in creating a truly inclusive workplace.   

For trans and non-binary people in particular, an inclusive workplace where they can be their true selves is more important than ever. Research by TotalJobs in 2021 found that 65 per cent of trans people hide their gender status or history at work. Aside from potential harassment, many trans people aren’t out at work because there is a lack of support from their employers.  

A man is sitting on the left side of the frame. He is wearing a grey cardigan and his hands are folded in his lap. The background is a dark green wall with candles lit.
Tate Smith found his way into activism after a previous employer invited him to tell his story during a “lunch and learn” event. (Tate Smith)

One man determined to help trans and non-binary people be their authentic selves at work is Tate Smith. As a legal secretary and trans activist, one of the corporate barriers to inclusion he encounters is that gender-affirming policies and care are reactive.

“I don’t think they’re thinking ahead,” says Smith. “They’re waiting for somebody to come out and tell them what to do, which is not good enough.”

While many businesses are implementing small changes like encouraging correct pronoun use, gender-neutral toilets and inclusive recruiting to support the trans community at work, there is a lot more business leaders can be doing. 

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“I’m seeing a real need for them to be educated by trans and non-binary people,” confesses Smith, “but the general consensus is that they always wait for somebody to come out.”

Smith sees the lack of progressive policy as the reason why many trans and non-binary people are not out at work.

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“What I’ve found is an excuse,” Smith continues. “It’s always used as to why they don’t have a policy, or why they don’t cover surgery, or whatever it is, they go: “Well, we don’t know any trans or non-binary people.””

“What they needed was an actual trans person’s input into it to make it more holistic.”

Tate Smith, legal secretary and trans activist

Speaking to PinkNews over a Zoom call, Smith speaks candidly about his work in activism, addressing “taboos” in the workplace and how younger trans and non-binary people can be their authentic selves within their careers.

Like many other trans activists, Smith fell into a career in activism based on his own personal story. After a bad coming out experience at a previous employer, Smith was inspired by a D&I team member to give a talk on his experiences as a trans man. The responses to that initial “lunch and learn” were overwhelmingly positive, and since that day Smith has been navigating a dual career of working as a legal secretary while being a trans rights activist and public speaker.

“I’m really proud to be ‘that’ corporate trans person,” Smith professes, “I want to be that representation because when I was starting out as a legal secretary, I saw no out LGBT people, and especially in senior leadership, and especially trans people.”

Smith’s early days of activism quickly led to action at a previous employer – he advocated and eventually got top surgeries to be added to the company’s gender-affirming care policy.

“What it took was for somebody being out. I was their first out trans person, and first out trans masculine person,” Smith remembers. “And what they needed was an actual trans person’s input into it to make it more holistic.”

With the support of key stakeholders at his previous employer, they were able to fight off the pushback from the healthcare provider and have his top surgery covered in August 2020.  

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Smith’s experience in the legal profession, his work as a speaker in other industries like finance and tech, and documenting his transition on social media has allowed him to confront misogyny head-on and speak to topics still considered taboo in the workplace.

“I don’t like to use the word “call-out” I would say rather “call-in” because I’m a very glass-half-full activist, and I just love to educate people. I’ve always been an open book.”

For those “taboo” workplace topics like menopause, mental health and gender identity, Smith acknowledges that action happens through shared experiences. 

“I don’t think people have really given much thought as to how much this impacts everyday life, just like grief, just like mental health, just like transition in the workplace,” he says. “It’s only until you start speaking about these lived experiences, that people then go, “Aha, okay, we’ve got to do something about that.””

A young man is posing for the camera. He has on a dark suit and short cropped hair.
Activist, speaker and legal secretary Tate Smith uses his own experiences as a trans man to help businesses become more inclusive. (Tate Smith)

“See what change you can implement by just being yourself”

Tate Smith, legal secretary and trans activist

With trans rights under attack in the US and the UK, businesses should take this as an opportunity to ensure their workplaces are inclusive of all people, regardless of gender identity. “Workplaces are a safe haven for LGBTQ+ people,” Smith states. “I think that’s just always going to stay that way, and I think that’s even more incentive for workplaces to get their act together.”

A truly inclusive workplace and culture transcends simple initiatives like adopting pronouns and gender-neutral bathrooms. Smith believes that businesses should be nurturing the employees impacted by transphobic headlines and have a response to those anti-trans headlines and laws.

“How can they bring their full and authentic self to work, plus, you know, get the job done?” asks Smith, “when they’ve been dragged down by the media and everything else that’s going on.”

Despite the trans-exclusionary rhetoric from lawmakers and the mainstream media, Smith is hopeful for the younger generation of trans and non-binary folk entering their careers. “The great thing about this generation is that all of this change is happening now,” he says.

Above all else, inclusive career growth comes when people feel like they are represented – and Smith is a prime example of that.

“When you see that you don’t have that visibility,” he concludes, “perhaps become that visibility. See what change you can implement, just by being yourself, because that’s exactly what I’ve done.”

If you enjoyed this article, our virtual PinkNews Trans+ Summit is taking place on 11 May. Find out more about the day-long event and secure your place now.

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