Toespraak minister Van Bijsterveldt bij het European Transgender Participation Symposium, in Dordrecht

Op donderdag 25 oktober hield minister Van Bijsterveldt een toespraak bij de opening van het European Transgender Paricipation Symposium in Dordrecht.

Dear participants, dear Mayor,

At the VU Medical Hospital in Amsterdam, children with genderdysphoria can receive a transition treatment at an early stage.
The parents of these children have founded an association called Berdache.

Berdaches are people within an Indian tribe who are not specifically male or female.
They have their own place within the community and have specific professions, such as potter, fortune teller, shaman, or storyteller.
And they are treated with respect. Because there is a general assumption that they can enrich the community.

In many sections of our Western society, this realization has yet to take root. The approximately fifty thousand transgender people in the Netherlands often have to fight a lifelong battle to win respect. And they have to show that – thanks to or in spite of your gender identity – you can be a valuable member to society.

The facts about the position of transgender people on the labour market speak for themselves.
Transgender people are far more likely to end up receiving unemployment benefit, welfare or to be classed as unfit to work. Approximately one third of this group find themselves outside the workforce, either because they lose their job as they enter the transition process or due to the bullying and violence they experience in the workplace.
There are no winners in this situation, only losers.

It not only means personal tragedy for all those who have the courage to come out of the closet and express their gender identity.
It also means that companies are missing valuable opportunities to increase diversity in their workforce.
What is more, it represents a waste of talent that costs society a great deal of money.

That’s why we are all here today –
representatives of companies and organizations, representatives of transgender movements, and administrators and policy makers from national governments and the European Commission – to make people aware.
It’s a very good thing that Transgender Network Netherlands is calling attention to this issue.

We not only want transgender people to be themselves and be able to participate in society.
We also want to show that winning back and keeping transgender people in the labour market benefits all concerned in society.

I know someone who can confirm this from personal experience.

Among you in the audience today is Willemijn Ahlers. I am proud she allowed me to tell you her story.

Willemijn is a police inspector who, a few years ago, came to the conclusion that she felt she was a woman in a man’s body.
She opted for the intensive path of gender transition.
I don’t need to tell you how much courage that took in such a male-dominated organization.

One of her main concerns was how to break her news to people at work.
Willemijn developed a document to inform her managers about genderdysphoria and to advise them on communication.

Her manager responded very well on that.

She organized a transition team around Willemijn. And Willemijn’s colleagues were told about her situation personally.
At work, Willemijn talked openly about her decision, with the support of the team. And senior management took a clear stand: you don’t have to understand it, but you have to respect it.

Things turned out well. Willemijn stayed with the police force and now puts her talents to good use in another job.
It’s a situation she is happy with. In return, the organization has received an even more motivated worker.
As Willemijn told us: “It gave me a boost and now I’m even more dedicated and enthusiastic about my work than I was before.”

But Willemijn’s transition had another effect on her organization.
It’s something she talks about when she speaks at conferences.
She argues that the police perform a service to society and they can only do that effectively when they reflect the diversity in society. And she’s absolutely right!

As I have already stated, keeping transgender individuals in the labour market benefits all parties.

It benefits transgender individuals, who are spared a marginal existence and can continue to develop their talents.
It benefits the employer, who gets motivated workers in return. And who invests in a workforce with greater diversity – something many believe is a prerequisite for better performance and improved results.
As trans woman and business expert Vanessa Sheridan said recently: “A diverse workforce is where breakthrough ideas come from. And great ideas are the lifeblood of corporations.”
Last but not least, it is also of great benefit to society.

It not only saves us a lot of money in welfare payments, job mediation and psychosocial support.
It also means – and this is surely the most important point of all – an investment in our social capital.
In a society where there’s a place for everyone. And where people can benefit from each other’s differences in every respect.

Dear friends,

I have shared Willemijn’s success story at the Groningen police.
And tomorrow you will hear about other successful examples.
Ballast Nedam has a trans woman at the top of its organization.
There are representatives from Accenture, a knowledge company that employs many transgender people.
The chairman of IBM will also speak on this issue.
And there are even more companies and organizations present who recognize that an active diversity policy is both important and rewarding.

It is important that these stories are publicized and that we look closely at what went right and what went wrong.

Should there be separate guidelines for transgender individuals at work, or is it better to see transgender as part of a broader approach to diversity?
What role can and should transgender workers themselves play in supporting their employer?
Are government organizations providing enough support? Does one effective standard approach exist, or should measures be tailored to each individual situation?

These are the issues you will discuss with each other tomorrow.
I hope it leads to practical insights that help everyone move forward.

Together with colleagues from Finland, Flanders, Sweden, Latvia and the United Kingdom, we are working towards a comprehensive approach to the fundamental rights of LGBT people at European level.
That should be presented to Euro Commissioner Viviane Reding next year. If you could use this occasion to produce a business case about transgender people at work, it would make an excellent contribution to that approach.

Dear friends across the gender spectrum,

I began by talking about the role of transgender people in a different culture.
But our own countries also need to understand in years to come that keeping transgender people in the workplace benefits everyone in society.
Together, you and I are going to make the difference.

Let me end by quoting Jillian Weiss’ book Transgender Workplace Society:

“The time to prepare is now. If you have a decent size workforce, it’s likely that you will deal with a transitioning employee. It’s a question of when, not if.”