🏳️‍🌈 Lessons From a Pink-Stained Wretch

One of the most important things an LGBTQ person can do is be out and outspoken in the workplace.

That’s what I learned when I was the only out reporter at The Tampa Tribune.1 2 I wasn’t a decision-maker, but I made sure the decision-makers knew about stories and issues that might otherwise go overlooked. In some cases, I wrote these stories myself. In others, I helped editors and fellow reporters with context and connections.

This makes a difference, especially in journalism. Newsrooms, regardless of politics, tend to be managed conservatively, which creates blind spots. I saw the impact female and BIPOC colleagues made when they shared their perspectives and experiences, and I felt compelled to do the same as an LGBTQ person.

This is part of my Gayskool project:
A new LGBTQ-themed post every day for Pride month.

(I’ve written about my time at the Tribune before: Take a look at My Out at Office Message to learn about Groundhog Day attempts to get same-sex domestic benefits.)

I’m proud that I stepped up and made a difference in the Tribune’s coverage of LGBTQ issues, even though, looking back, I know I could have done more. One article stands out in particular: It addressed trans employment issues at a time when trans issues were often considered confusing and controversial.

The story, by design, was not confusing or controversial.

I decided to write the article in early 2007, not long after the city manager in Largo, Fla., was fired after she announced she would begin transitioning. (If you think things are bad for trans people today in Florida, imagine what it was like 17 years ago. I can’t remember how our paper handled the story, but many media outlets were happy to treat the controversy as a carnival.)

I was out, covering business, and I knew what was happening in Largo was out of step with what was happening everywhere else. So, I pitched a story about trans professionals gaining acceptance and making headway in the business world.

I didn’t have to fight hard for the story. Editors saw the value. And I gave them more than 40 inches of my best stuff. (Get your mind out of the gutter. Newspaper articles are measured in column inches. This is about 1,300 words, not including a sidebar.)

This story stands out years later because of how matter-of-factly it approached the issue. This, as I said, was done deliberately — it was a story about good business, not culture wars. I felt no need to bring false balance to the article: What would I have done? Interviewed Fred Phelps about trans employment laws? How would that have been different from interviewing David Duke about the EEOC?

Believe it or not, the story calmly addressed the bathroom issue at least a decade before it became a conservative cause célèbre. After noting it was a touchy subject, the article said:

Berry, of Out & Equal, said her organization suggests that employees use the bathroom for the gender that matches their outward appearance. Employees presenting themselves as women should use the women’s room, and those presenting themselves as men should use the men’s room.

See? These things can be discussed with common sense when the reporter knows there’s no trans boogeyman lurking in the corner of every women’s restroom.

I’m not bringing this up to pat myself on the back, but to point out what someone can achieve at work when they have a voice at the table. If I weren’t in the newsroom then, I don’t think anyone would have thought of this article. And, if they did, they might not have approached it the same way as an LGBTQ person.

So, Dave, Are You Gonna Let Us Read the Damn Article?

Sheesh. There’s no need to yell. I hear you. Here’s the article, which I’m fairly sure I can share without violating copyright and fair use laws.3

A few bullets before you dive into the story:

  • Susan Stanton was still identifying herself as Steven and using he/him pronouns at the time. In fact, I don’t think she had announced her new name. Nonetheless, seeing the wrong name and pronouns in the first two grafs makes me uncomfortable today.
  • Brogan-Kator gave me permission to use her former name.
  • A caption, which I didn’t write, used the term “sex change.” I had a shit fit when I saw it in print.
  • The headline should have been “Businesses Finding Profit in Diversity.” It’s not wrong as is, but it’s misleading: Most people will interpret it to mean it refers to a single business, but in this case, it’s referring to the business world as a whole.

Business Finding Profit in Diversity

Transgender Acceptance is Part of the Bottom Line

Steve Stanton’s employment saga might have turned out differently if he worked for corporate America.

Largo decided to fire the city manager after the public learned he is transgender and plans to begin the lengthy process of transitioning into a woman. On Feb. 27, by a vote of 5 to 2, the city commission voted to place him on paid leave and begin the process of firing him. A public hearing is scheduled for tonight, and Stanton is expected to appeal the decision to fire him.

What happened in Largo contrasts sharply with what’s happening in the business world, where an increasing number of companies are moving quickly to add gender identity to their antidiscrimination policies.

Today, one-fourth of all Fortune 500 companies include gender identity in their written nondiscrimination policies, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a nonprofit organization based in Washington. That figure has risen dramatically from three years ago, when 7 percent of Fortune 500 companies could claim such a policy, and it is expected to continue growing.

Mara Keisling, executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington, cites two reasons: First, businesses recognize the value of a diverse workforce and want to recruit and retain talented workers; and second, transgender workers are speaking up and asking employers for equal protection.

When employees aren’t worried about being fired for reasons not related to their workplace performance, they’re more productive and effective, Keisling said.

Selisse Berry, executive director for Out & Equal Workplace Advocates in San Francisco, said that a diverse, inclusive workplace helps employers reach out to all kinds of prospective workers — not just those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

“A lot of companies are recognizing that, in a way, LGBT issues in general — that is, sexual orientation and gender identity — are kind of the litmus test for any progressive-minded person,” she said. “They know that if those policies are in place that it’s going to be a company that provides work-life balance and provides benefits for everyone.”

Gender identity refers to how a person identifies him- or herself. Most men have a male gender identity; most women have a female gender identity. A transgender person’s gender identity doesn’t match the gender he or she was born with.

Denise Brogan-Kator knows firsthand what it’s like to work for a company that discriminates against transgender workers.

Brogan-Kator recalls working as the vice president of finance for a medical products company in Pinellas County in the early 1990s. She said she was hired to help turn around the company, which was having such dire liquidity issues that it had problems making payroll.

At that time, Brogan-Kator went by the name David and presented herself as a man in the office. When the owner discovered Brogan-Kator was transgender, she was escorted from the office.

“I was there four or five years. Some months before he terminated me, he had written me a letter praising me and thanking me for having turned his company around,” she said. “It made me feel like you would expect it would make me feel.”

A Rough Landing

Brogan-Kator landed next with a software company in Tampa. “I told my boss that I was going to transition from male to female,” she said. “He suggested I do it somewhere else.”

Brogan-Kator eventually went to work as chief financial officer for Blue Ocean Software, a Tampa-based company that was purchased by Intuit in 2002 and later sold off to become NumaraSoftware. Although she had legally changed her first name to Denise when she was hired at Blue Ocean, she applied for the job as David.

When she explained the different names to company founder Russ Hobbs, her boss, “he sort of dropped his jaw and said, ‘What’s that about?’” she said.

Then, Brogan-Kator said, “he said, ‘I don’t care about that. If you can do the job, that’s what I care about.’”

Brogan-Kator still swells when she recalls that moment.

“For Russ to say that —truly, it’s a cliché, but it was a breath of fresh air. It was, I thought, this is what life is supposed to be like,” she said.

Brogan-Kator said she thrived at Blue Ocean Software, helping the company negotiate a large venture funding deal and then orchestrating the Intuit acquisition. She continued to present herself as David in the office, but when it became apparent the Intuit deal was going to close, she began the process of transitioning to a woman.

“By the time I left the company, my hair was at my shoulders and it was common knowledge,” she said.

‘Denise Did A Great Job’

Hobbs, who left Blue Ocean Software after the Intuit deal, said he has no regrets about hiring Brogan-Kator.

“I’m happy to say that our experience with Denise was only another example of a diverse individual doing an outstanding job and contributing towards the team’s success,” he said in an e-mail message.

“Denise did a great job, and was well-liked and highly regarded by her co-workers as well as the banking and legal professionals with whom she interacted.”

After leaving Intuit, Brogan-Kator enrolled in the University of Michigan Law School. She graduated in December and she and her partner, Mary Kator, intend to open a law firm that helps lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in discrimination cases.

“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do after I got fired the first time,” she said. “I went to a lawyer and asked how this could happen — how could he be firing me for something outside my scope of employment. He said, ‘I’m sorry but that’s just the way it is.’ I was appalled.”

At many companies, the question isn’t whether to include gender identity in the nondiscrimination policy but how to craft those policies so transgender employees are treated fairly.

A written nondiscrimination policy is just a first step, said Keisling, of the National Center for Transgender Equality. Companies also must make sure they’ve got procedures in place for updating an employee’s gender and first name in corporate records and to comply with medical privacy rules.

And, Keisling said, companies must be prepared to deal with one of the touchiest transgender issues of all: the bathroom issue.

Berry, of Out & Equal, said her organization suggests that employees use the bathroom for the gender that matches their outward appearance. Employees presenting themselves as women should use the women’s room, and those presenting themselves as men should use the men’s room.

If a company doesn’t have a written antidiscrimination policy that covers gender identity, an employee has little recourse if he or she is fired for being transgender. Federal and state laws offer few protections, and only a handful of cities and counties across the country have laws protecting transgender people from employee discrimination.

Employment lawyer Theresa Gallion, a managing partner at Fisher & Phillips LLP in Tampa and Orlando, said she typically fields one call a week from a company concerned about a transgender employee.

“I’m happy to report that nine out of 10 times, the nature of the communication is, ‘How do we accommodate this person?’” she said. “It’s usually a long-term valued employee, and there are worries about boundary issues.”

Keisling said she expects more employers to follow the example set by corporate America and not Largo. “Employers are beginning to realize that people who are courageous enough to do this out in the open, like Mr. Stanton, are examples of the kind of employees they want,” she said. “The kind of courage and focus and determination that Steve is showing are just remarkable characteristics in an employee.”


  1. A once-fine newspaper that, years after I left, got strangled by investors, dipped its toe in bigotry, and then was shuttered without warning one morning by its rival. ↩︎
  2. The title of this blog post is a play on “ink-stained wretch,” my favorite term for a newspaper reporter. I wasn’t so much ink-stained as I was wretched, but I loved being a journalist. ↩︎
  3. My reasoning as a non-lawyer person: First, since The Tampa Tribune no longer exists, I assume this content is owned by the Tampa Bay Times. Second, the Times’ privacy policy permits people to copy content from its site as long as it is for personal, non-commercial use. This is a personal blog that does not generate revenue, and I have no plans to monetize it. Third, if the copyright does, in fact, belong to The Tampa Bay Times, I’ll state clearly now that the article is © The Tampa Bay Times, and all rights are reserved. Fourth, this content is being used to inform and educate people, which means sharing it here may fall under the fair use doctrine for copyrighted material. And, fifth, I wrote the damn thing. That’s gotta count for something, right? ↩︎