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The remarkable progress in corporate America's embrace and support of its transgender workers shows the U.S. competitive spirit is alive and well--and helping boost the T part of the LGBT rainbow

I'm interrupting my Transgender 101 Series to pass along some big news for transgender people from this week's release of the 2006 Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index (CEI) and the Out and Equal 2006 Workplace Summit in mid September.

HRC gave those of us attending the Out and Equal Summit a sneak peak at the 2006 CEI results released on September 19. The annual CEI is a tool to measure how equitably companies are treating their gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees, consumers, and investors. Scoring 100% each year is rapidly becoming essential for major employers.

This year, HRC raised the bar to include transgender parity in at least one of five wellness benefits, and the results are exciting. Of the 446 companies in the survey, a total of 303 companies offer at least one of the specified benefits for their transgender employees, and a staggering 67 offer all five. More impressively, 28% of the employers provide health benefits for trans-related surgical procedures.

HRC told us that some companies are surprised to find that their health insurance coverage excludes gender identity-related treatments. The language is often in the master policy because it is the "standard" offering from the insurance company. Once employers learn this, it is often only a matter of demanding that their insurers remove the exclusion.

The exclusion is standard because of fears over the cost of inclusion. But Mary Ann Horton, in her eye-opening Out and Equal session on "The Cost of Transgender Health Benefits," showed convincingly that the cost is considerably less than that of domestic partner coverage, even when taking into account a generous margin of error.

Horton backed up her calculations with the experience of the City and Country of San Francisco, which has provided comprehensive transgender health coverage since 2001. Their actuaries knew there were 27 transgender municipal employees, and therefore geared up to pay for 35 surgeries each year. But they missed the fact that some transgender people never have surgery and those that do generally only have it once in a lifetime. Actual cost experience has been no worse than that for gall bladder removal or heart surgery.

Last year, Raytheon made history when it became the first of the major aerospace and defense contractors to add gender identity and expression to its employment nondiscrimination policy, a requirement to score 100% on the CEI. This year, Raytheon is joined at 100% by three of their competitors. Clearly, there is a domino effect going on out there. Raytheon has now upped the ante by announcing at Out and Equal that they are the first corporate sponsor of this year's Southern Comfort Conference, probably the largest transgender conference in the U.S.

Certainly, the Out and Equal Workplace Summit has a lot of programming on other topics of interest to corporate LGBT employee resource groups, but transgender inclusion was a definite theme this year. The theme was set in the opening plenary by the head of GlaxoSmithKline's HIV-related business and the doctor who discovered AZT, each expressing their own heartfelt pride that GSK had just added gender identity and expression to its nondiscrimination policy. Neither stumbled once when talking about the importance of transgender inclusion, as others do when giving it lip service. GSK clearly gets it.

Trans inclusion in the workplace was one of the topics covered by a panel executive directors from national LGBT organizations. Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, sat on the panel as an equal with Neil Giuliano of GLAAD, Kate Kendell of NCLR, Alexander Robinson of the National Black Justice Coalition and Joe Solmonese of HRC. It was very clear from their remarks that are all collaborating around inclusion.

Another well-attended feature session, this one sponsored by Intel, featured Andrea James and Calpernia Addams discussing their experience consulting to the movie Transamerica and their efforts to change Hollywood's portrayal of trans people, a key step toward acceptance by Americans at large. Other sessions covered corporate transition guidelines as well as training for those who wish to do transgender-inclusion training in their companies.

But I was most struck by a session led by Dr. Louise Young, the Raytheon senior software engineer and self-described "longtime lesbian activist" who founded the Raytheon GLBTA. Louise explained her evolution from her initial realization that trans people are very much part of the LGBT community, to spearheading Raytheon's efforts to add gender identity and expression to the EEO policy, and finally to her pride in serving recently as the "subject matter expert" for a Raytheon division wanting to understand a colleague's impending transition from male to female.

Louise Young is not transgender, but she is a capital-A trans ally. She was not the only one at the summit. I met several nontransgender corporate representatives who genuinely want to embrace transgender people at their companies and realize that they need to understand us in order to do so. Attendees were full of questions for all of the trans presenters at the summit--and even for me, just another attendee. It's clear that corporate America is starting to get the "T." How is your company doing?

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