My ‘Coming Out’ Story at Kawneer and Alcoa Company – Raymond Sweet
I have worked at for Kawneer/Alcoa since 2001; celebrating ten years last June. I have seen a major change in the culture at Kawneer, and Kawneer has seen a major change in me. I have not changed who I am, but I have changed how I am perceived. When I first started here, society saw me as a lesbian woman and my co-workers saw me as a single mother of one. I am a transsexual male who has transitioned in the workplace.
I have always been very aware of the non-discrimination policies and other topics that affect my job security as a member of the LGBT community. It was encouraging for me to be able follow the progress of EAGLE (Employees at Alcoa for Gay and Lesbian Equality; Alcoa’s LGBT ERG). This empowered me to live a more integrated life. I began not hiding my female partner and my family from co-workers. Three years ago I felt safe enough to bring my partner and all three of my children to Kawneer’s company picnic. Though I identified as transgender at this time, many saw these steps as my coming out as a lesbian in the workplace.
As a lesbian or gay man one can choose to keep their private life completely out of the workplace but that comes at a sacrifice by limiting friendships and telling untruths to coworkers. A person who chooses to be “in the closet” may appear distant and stand-offish. Yet, they are simply doing what they feel they must in order to protect themselves and their families. As a transgendered person who knew I needed to transition to fully live my life, there was no longer an option to be “in the closet.”
It is encouraging that about three years ago Kawneer added gender identity to the non-discrimination policy; this now includes transgender persons. This is a policy that Alcoa has had in place for some time. This policy was not on the books in 2008 when I went to my Human Resource manager to tell her of my upcoming transition and my identity as a transman. It was also after this meeting with my HR manager that Alcoa released their transition guideline, which outlines fair and respectful treatment for transitioning employees. I was able to reach out to other men who had gone through the transition process outside of work. I was willing to lose or leave my job at Kawneer if necessary. My HR manager was able to reach out for advice from other HR professionals, and I believe to EAGLE as well. I also provided my HR manager with information and resources where appropriate.
It has been two years since my co-workers were educated about my transition and the proper way to respond as a Kawneer employee. The transition was smoother than I anticipated. Knowing that Alcoa is taking a stand for equality and diversity allows me to focus on my job by easing my fear of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. My coming out in the workplace was not perfect, but I know where to turn for help. Developing an EAGLE chapter at Kawneer was just another step towards achieving full equality and fair treatment of LGBT people at Alcoa.