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What all businesses can do to be trans-friendly

Anibal Ortiz / KPCC

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Major corporations like Nike and NASA have taken steps to welcome transgender people into their workforce.

Now many smaller businesses are moving in this direction, too.

"Trans people can be great employees, and companies don't want to lose those employees by having a workplace that's not welcoming," says Carolyn Weiss, president of Transgender Business Services.

Weiss formerly worked for the city of Los Angeles for 32 years. A trans woman herself, she had a positive experience transitioning in the workplace.

However, she says she's met trans people who have been harassed at work, demoted or let go from their job.

Weiss now consults with companies around Southern California looking to develop LGBT-inclusive policies.

"They recognize that a significant part of their workforce will possibly be transgender in the future," she says.

Part of the shift in employer mentality on LGBT issues can be traced to the Obama White House, says Barbara Spotts of NASA's Diversity and Inclusion Program.

"To be honest with you, the road was a little easier with that kind of support," she says.

NASA crafted its own guidelines in 2009 because it wanted to demonstrate its commitment to a diverse workplace. It has been credited for having one of the best trans-inclusive policies by the Los Angeles LGBT Center's Trans Economic Empowerment Project.

"There were a lot of, for lack of a better word, nasty-grams at first," says Spotts of other employees who protested.

But she says the number of religious objections by those employees have dwindled as NASA educated its workers on LGBT sensitivity.

Weiss hopes to make similar strides with employers big and small in Southern California with her new e-learning course. She educates them in certain key areas like the usage of correct pronouns, creating a defined bathroom policy and discouraging harassment.

"Trans people are in the workplace and they could be the person in the next cubicle," she says. "Being respectful of other people is a basic thing that people expect at work."