By Bridget Hawkins
In the lead up to the 2019 National LBGQTI+ Awards we caught up with Melissa Griffiths, a transgender activist helping businesses to create safe working spaces for their gender-diverse employees. Since beginning her transition in 2015 Melissa has been educating workplaces on different gender identity issues and has advised a number of businesses including Racing Victoria on their policies surrounding gender diversity. She is currently a finalist for the LBGQTI+ Awards in the category of Hero, an award that recognises members of the LGBQTI+ community who have never stopped fighting for equality & inclusivity for the community. The 2018 HERO Winner was Prof Kerryn Phelps.
Sitting down with Melissa we discussed what policies a workplace can implement to achieve these safe spaces. Often, it is as simple as allowing employees to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity or having workplace policies against gender-based discrimination. Or, when an employee intends to transition, that there is appropriate support including; time off work, how and when to tell other employees, and a guideline with basic terminology explaining gender identity and other questions that may arise. Melissa has set up a number of policies for work spaces around Victoria but has found there is still a long way to go.
“A good support network, both within a workplace and outside of it can be essential to your emotional safety, and can help push you to achieve great things.”
Melissa describes herself as a “visual person,” and her office as filled with posters and mind maps that describe her goals. These visual reminders not only push Melissa to her achievements but, also keep her motivated, and inspired in difficult times. There is a lot of emotional labour that comes with educating people about facets of your own identity, especially in the age of anonymous internet “trolls.” Any business or person online will encounter these “trolls,” who can make harassing comments.
While you will never be able to stop the trolls, learning how to deal with them is your best defence. Melissa has found a number of strategies over the years, but it is humour and a support network that are the most effective. Laughing at the online comments trolls make, and allowing them to just slide off is the most effective and Melissa even jokes about using some of her most horrible comments as merchandise. This is easier to do with a strong support network, and a mentor to ask questions. A good support network, both within a workplace and outside of it can be essential to your emotional safety, and can help push you to achieve great things.
Melissa was awarded a 2019 Australia Day Achievement Medallion and the BWA team wishes her congratulations!