Supportive Supervisors | Trans + Script

Navigating any place of employment can be complex for transgender and nonbinary people, but having an informed and supportive supervisor can make things easier.

Navigating any place of employment can be complex for transgender and nonbinary people, but having an informed and supportive supervisor can make things easier. Not all trans and nonbinary staff will need the same kinds of support, so it may take some dialog to find the right way to back your trans employees. Carson Williams, an Adult Services Librarian at the Benson Memorial Library in Titusville, PA, shares his experience of working with a supervisor who catered their support to Carson's needs.—Elsworth Carman

Carson Williams from waist up, smiling person in Pittsburgh Pirates jersey and brown hat, with reddish hair and a nose ringLet’s face it, being a transgender/nonbinary individual is difficult. It can be even more difficult without any support at your place of employment. As librarians, we often find ourselves bending over backward to help anyone who walks through our doors, no questions asked. Let’s take that same energy and direct it toward our trans/nonbinary coworkers and employees. Thankfully, as a transgender librarian in a rural small town, I have had supervisors who have gone above and beyond to make me feel comfortable and safe. In fact, my current boss was the one who encouraged me to reach out to Library Journal to talk about my experiences as a queer librarian.

Changing your legal name can be expensive, time consuming, and a bit uncomfortable for transgender people, who in some states have to announce their name change in local newspapers. For those reasons, I have not officially changed my name. When I was hired, I had to awkwardly explain this when giving my new boss my license and direct deposit information, ultimately outing myself. They immediately reassured me and asked what they could do to make things easier for me. Obviously some things could not be changed—my legal name would have to be printed on my pay stub each week—but there were ways to avoid letting other people in our system know my birth name, and to make sure my company email reflected the name I wanted. All steps that ensured that I would never be referred to as a name I did not want to be called.

When I was first hired, only my supervisor and a few other coworkers knew that I was transgender. As much as I love being in the queer community and am proud to be a transgender individual, I don’t want my gender expression to get in the way of my work. Some people hold strong, discriminatory beliefs about trans people, and if they know that I am transgender, it could hinder our work relationship and make things harder for both of us. In most situations, I will get a sense of how the person feels about LGBTQ+ issues, how they react to certain topics, and make the decision on my own, if I feel that it’s necessary. In the past, I’ve had well-intentioned coworkers tell patrons (most of whom were struggling with their own gender identity) that I am transgender without asking me first if they could disclose that information. They thought that I could offer some assistance to those in the queer community who needed help. While, yes, I would love to do that, it’s always best to ask someone first if they would be comfortable sharing that information.



Just like any place of employment, libraries may have a healthy mixture of younger and older employees, who grew up with different societal norms. Some librarians might not know how to navigate transgender rhetoric or how they should approach certain situations regarding the queer community or trans coworkers/employees. This is where a proactive supervisor can step in and make sure that the transgender employees aren’t the ones being asked questions about their identity on a daily basis.

Mandatory, re-occurring LGBTQ+/diversity trainings, webinars, and information should be required. It will help queer library patrons, employees, supervisors, and those who weren’t raised in an environment where issues like this were talked about openly. As librarians, we should be staying up-to-date on the correct ways to serve all people.

Finally, one of the easiest ways to show up and support your trans/nonbinary coworkers/employees is to be an advocate for them. Correcting people on pronouns, names, and sticking up for yourself can be emotionally taxing and difficult to do for transgender individuals. Having a supervisor or coworker do that instead shows their commitment to creating an uplifting, inclusive work space, where trans employees are respected and valued. If you don’t know where to start, little acts of inclusivity can help too. Tell all of your library employees to add their pronouns to their work email signature. Ask your trans employees what you can do for them. Stay informed on current LGBTQ+ issues. Make sure your library’s collection includes trans experiences. Constantly check in and make sure that your library is fostering an environment where a trans person would feel, not only included, but empowered and respected.

Elsworth Carman is Director of the Iowa City Public Library in Iowa City, IA. Carson Williams is Adult Services Librarian at the Benson Memorial Library in Titusville, PA.

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Bruce Pratt

I am not a manager or even a coworker of Carson, but as someone who frequents the Benson Memorial Library I can tell you he rocks! Kind, intelligent, funny and friendly are a few of the great words to describe Carson. I may not always know what pronouns to use but that does not mean I do not care. Carson’s boss and coworkers are all great people and if I found out they were anything but supportive I would have been very surprised. This is the first Library Journal article I have read and it was a great one to start on. Thanks for sharing Carson and thanks to the Journal for posting it.

Posted : Dec 29, 2020 02:01



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