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Serving Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Customers

All New York State agencies and offices should strive to provide outstanding, inclusive, and accessible service to its customers. It is important to routinely examine the ways in which the agency interacts with its customers and make any necessary modifications. This topic provides guidance on how to do so.

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  1. Greetings and Communication
  2. Forms, Promotional Materials, Written Materials, and Signage
  3. Gender Segregated Facilities
  4. Personal vs. Professional Values
  5. Everyday Language

Greetings and Communication

Many common terms used to address individuals and groups are gendered. Using these terms can result in misgendering or excluding people, especially those who are part of the transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) communities. The following suggestions include best practices for greeting and communicating with others in a respectful and inclusive manner:

E-mail: When communicating by e-mail, it is common to use terms like Mr. Smith or Mrs. Martinez instead of first names. However, if the individual has not yet introduced themselves to you using a formal prefix (e.g., Mr. or Mrs.), it is not appropriate to assume. You should use the person's full name or a greeting that omits a gendered description.

A customer sends an e-mail to your agency asking about your services and signs the e-mail Charlie Morris. When responding to the e-mail, the following introductions are examples of ways to respectfully address Charlie without assuming their gender:

  • Dear Charlie Morris
  • Dear Valued Customer
  • Good Afternoon
  • Thank you for contacting us
A person typing an email

Speaking to a person or group of people: When beginning a conversation with a group of individuals, use greetings that are not gendered. For example, terms such as ladies and gentlemen, guys, or ladies can exclude or misrepresent people. Instead, you can use the following greetings to create an inclusive, welcoming introduction:

When addressing an individual for the first time, you should avoid assuming a gendered designation, such as Mr., Mrs., sir, or ma'am, and use the name they provided instead.

Speaking about a person or group of people: Your job may require you to speak about a person. For example, if a customer has an appointment with someone in your agency, you might contact your colleague to inform them that the person has arrived. When speaking about someone, avoid using gendered language to describe the person if you do not know their gender. You should use the person's name instead of using a gender marker (e.g., "Sam Walker is here for an appointment," instead of "Mr. Walker is here for an appointment.") For a more thorough discussion of pronoun use, see Names and Pronouns.

Remember, deliberate misuse of pronouns, prefixes, or names is unlawful discrimination.

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Forms, Promotional Materials, Written Materials, and Signage

Many agencies use standardized forms of communication to interact with customers. Agencies need to review all standardized documents, templated language, and signage to ensure that it is inclusive of people of different genders.

A key aspect of customer service is that services are provided in a relevant, inclusive, and appropriate manner. Your agency's ability to provide excellent customer service is impaired when its language is not reflective of the communities it serves. The following are some best practices that your agency may consider. These practices are not required and may be changed to fit your agency's population or operational constraints.

Standardized Forms: Best practices for intake forms, questionnaires, surveys, evaluations, or any standardized form that gathers demographic information include:

Written Materials: Review all written agency materials including documents, forms, letters, memos, and curricula, to identify appropriate use of pronouns. Whenever possible, use the gender-neutral pronoun they instead of singular gender pronouns (he or she, his or her) or a combined approach. The gender-neutral they is commonly used in verbal communication and is grammatically correct. It is also reflective of many people's existing speech habits. Instead of his or her, you can also use the individual or the person.

Preferred language examples: When a customer enters your agency, you should ask how you can help them. When a customer enters your agency, you should ask the individual how you can help.

Non-preferred language example: When a customer enters your agency, you should not ask how you can help him or her.

Woman greeting a customer

Promotional Materials: If your agency uses posters, flyers, or other methods of advertisement, ensure the language is inclusive of diverse genders and gender identities. Additionally, you should consider the images used to represent your customer base. Images should reflect the diversity of New York State and include individuals who are part of the transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) communities.

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Gender Segregated Facilities

Some New York State agencies use or provide facilities or services that are segregated by sex or gender. Whenever possible, agencies are encouraged to provide a gender-neutral option for these segregated facilities. New York State law requires that individuals must be allowed to use the facility or service that corresponds with their gender identity.

For example, a person who identifies as a transgender man must be permitted to use a men's bathroom regardless of their gender presentation or expression. If a person asks for assistance or directions in accessing gender-separated services or facilities, you should ask the person which service or facility they want to use and provide guidance based on their response.

Consistent with a recently-enacted law, State agencies must designate all single occupancy bathrooms in State-owned or -operated buildings and office spaces as gender neutral. Agencies with single occupancy bathrooms that are not signed as gender neutral should contact the Office of General Services for new signage.

In the event that an individual is uncomfortable sharing a gender-separated facility with a member of the transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) communities, the agency may accommodate that person by allowing them to use a single-occupancy facility, such as a family-style or accessible bathroom. The agency cannot require the TGNC person to use a different bathroom to accommodate the complaining person.

The Governor's Office of Employee Relations can answer questions regarding other facilities.

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Personal vs. Professional Values

Discrimination against an individual based on a protected class status is illegal. Transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) individuals are members of a protected class. Therefore, while New York State recognizes each employee's right to hold their own beliefs or opinions, employees are prohibited from acting in a discriminatory manner. Employees also must not allow their beliefs or opinions to impact their ability—or their colleagues' abilities—to perform their job duties.

Your job duties may include providing high-quality customer service to all customers, including those who are members of a protected class. All New York State employees must follow State guidelines and perform their job functions without discriminating against customers based on TGNC or any other protected class status.

Christine recently began living in accordance with her gender identity, using female pronouns she/her/hers, the name Christine, dressing in skirts, and painting her toenails. She just started receiving gender-affirming medical treatment, and some of her physical characteristics are not yet consistent with her gender identity. She is hiking in a local State park and needs to use the bathroom. She stops a ranger on the trail and asks where she can find the closest ladies' room. The ranger is surprised by Christine's request and frustrated that so many people these days seem to want to be different or make "regular folks" uncomfortable. He does not understand how a man could want to dress like a woman—and he does not want women, like his wife, to have to share a bathroom with people like this! He tells Christine, "There is a women's bathroom at the visitor center, but I think it would be best if you use one of the gender-neutral outhouses on the blue trail."

A hiker on a trail

Christine has the right to use a gender-neutral bathroom if she chooses, but she also has the right to use the women's bathroom as that is the facility most consistent with her gender identity. The ranger should have provided Christine with information relating to the women's bathroom that she requested. If the gender-neutral outhouse is closer, then that may be additional information to provide; however, it is not appropriate to imply that a gender-neutral bathroom is a more suitable facility for her to use.

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Everyday Language

The Names and Pronouns topic contains helpful information that explains many concepts related to the appropriate use of pronouns and names for all individuals, especially for members of the transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) communities. You should review that topic to learn ways to provide better customer service, including: