Q&A with Mary Ann Horton
25th Anniversary of EEO Policy
What was the workplace like for transgender people in 1997?
- Transgender workers were routinely fired when employers found out they were changing their sex. A Federal Appeals Court ruled in 1984 (Ulane v Eastern Airlines) that such firings were legal. A truck driver for a grocery chain (Oiler v. Win-Dixie) was fired in 1999 when he came out to his boss as a crossdresser. No large companies protected transgender workers in their Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policies.
What changed in 1997?
- I was a technology worker at Lucent Technologies in Columbus, Ohio. My gay and lesbian colleagues extolled the virtues of coming out at work, and I wanted the freedom to come out at work as transgender. Corporate policy protected “sexual orientation” but not trans workers. Through channels, I asked Lucent to add trans-inclusive language.
- Months later, the response was “If we were to add transgender to the EEO policy, what language should we use to be as inclusive as possible”? I consulted other trans activists and suggested “gender identity, sex and gender characteristics, or gender expression”. “sex characteristics”, which would have protected hidden intersex medical conditions, didn’t fly, so I suggested “gender identity, characteristics, or expression”. “Gender identity” protected transsexuals, “gender characteristics” protected intersex workers (with both hidden and visible intersex biological differences) and “gender expression” protected crossdressers (including myself), gay and lesbian workers who weren’t “straight acting”, and anyone who didn’t fit cultural customs for sex-specific attire, appearance, or behavior.
- On October 28, 1997, Ethel Batten, Lucent’s Diversity Lead, added the language, and Rich McGinn, Lucent CEO, signed it. Lucent became the first Fortune 500 corporation to formally commit to not discriminate against transgender and intersex workers.
Were you a crossdresser? [Note: CMS uses “cross-dresser”, but the trans community has always spelled it without a hyphen.]
- At the time, I identified as a crossdresser and lived partly as Mark and partly as Mary Ann. I did not transition to living full time as Mary Ann until 2001.
Once the policy was in place, did anything change?
- Confidence boosted by this EEO policy, I came out in the workplace. I would sometimes come to work as Mark, sometimes as Mary Ann.
Was this gender fluidity controversial?
- Critics in the trans community attacked me and my advocacy for crossdressers, but there was no problem at the Lucent workplace. Once the restroom issue was worked out (Lucent adopted a policy that trans workers should use the restroom matching their current gender presentation), I worked freely in either gender.
Did other companies follow suit?
- I kept blazing the trail. At the Out & Equal Workplace Summit, I networked with LGBT employee resource groups from other large companies, encouraging them to add trans-inclusive language. Apple added the language in 1998. Avaya and Agere followed in 2000. IBM, Xerox, Chase, and others followed soon thereafter.
Is this anniversary being celebrated by corporate America?
- Yes. Lucent is now part of Nokia. Nokia is releasing sound bites on their social media channels throughout the day on October 28.
Have you told your story?
- I gave dozens of transgender 101 workshops over the years. People told me afterwards that the best part of the workshop was when i told my personal story. They wanted to hear more. So I wrote a memoir
What’s your memoir about?
- Trailblazer: Lighting the Path for Transgender Equality in Corporate America is the story of my life as a trans woman, and as an activist. It tells of my work with Lucent, advocating for trans-inclusion in LGB groups, and with the Lutheran church. It also touches on some of my technical accomplishments with the UNIX system, email, and early social media, but these are written for a nontechnical audience.
Why did you call your book “Trailblazer”?
- In 2001, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates presented their annual Outie Awards. They named me the winner of the Trailblazer award, as the LGBT person who made the biggest difference in the corporate workplace. (This award has since been renamed the “LGBTQ+ Corporate Advocate of the Year”.) This was for my work with Lucent and Avaya, not only advocating for the trans-inclusive EEO policy, but for coverage of transgender health benefits in the company insurance program.
Where can we buy your book?
- Trailblazer was released October 28, 2022, on the 25th anniversary of Lucent’s historic policy. It’s available on Amazon as an eBook and a paperback.
A selection of book head shots and book covers is at https://maryannhorton.com/trailblazer/
About Dr Mary Ann Horton
Dr Mary Ann Horton (she, her, ma’am) is a transgender activist, an author, an internet pioneer and a computer architect. She earned her PhD in Computer Science from UC Berkeley, spent 20 years with Bell Labs and retired from San Diego Gas & Electric, where she protected the power grid from hackers. In 1997 she persuaded Lucent Technologies to be the first Fortune 500 company to add transgender-inclusive language to their nondiscrimination policy, earning her the Trailblazer Outie Award, and inspiring her to write her memoir “Trailblazer: Lighting the Path for Transgender Inclusion in Corporate America”.
Her full bio is on her web site.
She can be contacted by email as mah (at) mhorton (dot) net, or by Telephone at (858) 746 (dash) 4741.