FARGO – Among the many interesting things about Fargo resident Faye Seidler is that more Americans report having seen a ghost than having met a transgender person like Seidler.
Seidler, who transitioned from a male identity into a female one in her first 90 days in a new job at Sanford Health here, said if she hadn't come out then and started the transition, she might have joined the ghost statistic - so to speak.
Even after considering suicide and finding transition much the better option, Seidler said coming out at work wasn't easy.
"I understand my company didn't deal with this much," she said. "I'm being judged, not on the quality of my work but for who I am."
Seidler, who eventually decided to leave her job at Sanford and file a discrimination lawsuit against Sanford, now works at a new job.
Using a community innovation grant, she developed a survey that aims to measure whether workplaces in North Dakota would welcome cultural competency training for lesbian, gay and transgender issues, part of a project called North Dakota Safe Zone.
Seidler believes the training can help people in any profession because there's no blueprint out there for transgender etiquette in the workplace.
When she started to research the issue online, she found even college campuses that offer Safe Zone programming don't have consistent best practices recommendations.
"It's not standardized. Everyone's kind of doing their own thing," Seidler said. "It was really unreliable. Some places were really good, some places were really bad."
Many human resources professionals in the Fargo area were reluctant to comment for this story, citing a lack of personal experience with transgender workplace issues.
Jessica Shawn, president of the Fargo Moorhead Human Resource Association, said HR specialists have a responsibility not just to the transitioning person but to other workers, too.
Even though only 2 to 5 percent of the population identifies as transgender, some of the issues Seidler identified, such as deciding how someone's new name will appear on company documents, handling access to dressing and restrooms, and training employees on appropriate conduct, are very much on Shawn's radar.
Of that 2 to 5 percent, half report they were discriminated against at work, and 26 percent said they lost a job because of it.
Shawn said it's in an employer's best interests to be knowledgeable and accommodating on the topic .
"Most importantly is to know that not every transition is the same, and you need to work with the employee based on where they are in the process," Shawn said. "You also have to be prepared for co-workers that may struggle based on their personal or religious beliefs."
Labor statistics in North Dakota don't reflect cases of discrimination against LGBT populations.
"We don't have anything in our database," said Troy Seibel, the state's labor commissioner.
"There's not a box that we can check off, but we're doing the next best thing."
His department started informally tracking complaints about LGBT discrimination after hearings at the state Legislature last spring on a failed bill that would have made it illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Since January 2014, the state Labor Department has received four formal cases alleging LGBT discrimination, all of which the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been notified about. Seidler filed a complaint with EEOC, which was dismissed in September.
Seidler's attorney, Joshua Newville, previously told The Forum that the EEOC's dismissal has no bearing on the suit, given that the agency is overworked and dismissed complaints often prevail in court.
Seibel said the state Labor Department also received four other inquiries or complaints that didn't result in formal filings.
He agreed with Seidler that the issue is still poorly understood by many in the workplace, who often equate sexual orientation issues with transgender issues.
Seibel said it can be even more confusing when it comes to day-to-day problems transgender people can face: confrontations about why, misgendering, separate changing rooms that make the transgender worker feel even more conspicuous, or shared ones that make fellow employees uncomfortable.
Seidler is the first to acknowledge the learning curve in the workplace can be a steep one, and that you really shouldn't make another person your learning experience. But she said that's what she's there for.
"We're inviting people in, not trying to call them out," she said. "As a trans educator, the first thing I teach is it's OK to make mistakes."