“Your understanding of the LGBT community is probably not the same as the person sitting next to you,” said Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, at the beginning of a presentation for over 115 of the Chicago Transit Authority’s manager-level staff at its downtown headquarters last month.
The room, full of managers from various divisions of the CTA, including human relations, engineering and garage staff, demonstrated Martinez’s assumption throughout the presentation, “Serving and Supporting the GLBT Community,” by asking and answering questions about sexual orientation and gender identity with their peers.
“It’s very important to go in and explain the legal aspects of serving the LGBT community,” Martinez said, shortly after administering the training session — one of six conducted by TCRA, the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance and Affinity Community Services with the University of Illinois at Chicago Gender and Sexuality Center.
“It is also very important to go in and explain what is LGBT,” he said, noting that while the group was “moderately interactive,” the best part of the training sessions is seeing someone who is resistant to the information settling in and becoming receptive.
The CTA, which serves over 1.6 million commuters every day, is rolling out training to all of its nearly 10,000 employees to be more sensitive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer customers and employees for the first time as part of overdue compliance with a settlement the agency reached with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations after it lost a lawsuit alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In 2005, a CTA employee with the pseudonym Richard Roe, sued the agency for allegedly failing to intervene after supervisors and other employees harassed him for being gay. As part of a 2010 ruling in favor of Roe, the CCHR ordered the CTA to train all of its employees within one year, and all of its managers within six months.
But last March, the CCHR fined the CTA for failing to adequately implement the training among management within the mandated timeframe, when Roe’s attorney Jacob Meister checked on the transit authority’s progress.
Specifically, the CCHR found that a sexual harassment training program created by the CTA’s law department was not sufficient, and that the CTA seemingly confused sexual harassment with sexual orientation discrimination.
“They wanted to take shortcuts by trying to wrap sexual orientation training into sexual harassment training — two very different things,” Martinez said. “Sexual harassment training is not what the CCHR mandated.”
The CCHR recommended that Meister, an LGBT attorney and founding member of The Civil Rights Agenda, help the CTA get the training done properly and in a timely fashion. Meister then went to Martinez at TCRA, who worked with the CTA’s law department to determine how to structure and implement the sessions and other forms of education on LGBT issues. Martinez brought in ISSA, Affinity and UIC’s Gender and Sexuality Center to help him develop and administer the training pro-bono.
The CCHR subsequently granted the CTA a series of extensions, and training sessions began Dec. 5, according to Shannon Sullivan, executive director at Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, who trained the first two groups of managers.
The CTA is seeking another extension from CCHR through the end of 2014, Martinez said.
About half of the CTA’s management employees have been trained, said CTA Director of Communications and Media Relations Tammy Chase.
“This is the first time we have offered sexual orientation harassment training,” Chase said. “Eventually all of our employees will receive training.”
More managers will be trained early this year, and the rest of the CTA’s workforce will be required to watch a DVD provided by TCRA in conjunction with UIC’s Gender and Sexuality Center because conducting seminars with thousands of employees and 24/7 operations would take years, Martinez said. He anticipates the educational video will begin to make its way through the CTA workforce by April or May.
Despite the delays, Martinez and Sullivan consider the training a success so far.
“The two [sessions] that I did were tremendously positive,” Sullivan said, and added that the educational development taking place at the CTA is very similar to development ISSA has done with school districts throughout the state on LGBT issues.
“This is something the CTA has left very … unaddressed,” she said. “Of course they have LGBT people working there and of course they need the skills to address LGBT issues and make a safe work environment for everyone.”
The presentation consists of 10 sections, and offers the employees detailed explanations of terminology, harassment and discrimination, and ends with a section for questions and answers.
The groups define harassment as actions that “create an unpleasant or hostile situation especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct” and discrimination as “treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit.”
Much of the focus is on scenarios of minor harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity that often happen on an extended and consistent basis at work.
“Just like in schools we worked with — everything from small town schools to larger school districts — it’s that low level language that really starts to wear on people on a day to day basis,” Sullivan said. “Especially when people work in teams as mechanics — and they really have situations where people really don’t feel like a team member and it really makes it hard for people to go to work. It’s appalling.”
Several questions for Martinez came during the terminology section, when he described the differences between sexual orientation and the expression of gender identity as well as on the topic of privilege; particularly, how LGBT people are potentially less privileged than those who do not identify as LGBT. For example, gays and lesbians are less privileged than heterosexuals because they do not have the right to get married, Martinez explained.
In addition, Martinez explained that a person who is transgender is not necessarily gay, bisexual or lesbian. And someone who identifies as queer is not necessarily any of those things, he said.
Another part includes statistics on violence and discrimination against LGBT people. For example, about 74 percent of LGBT adults have experienced prejudice and discrimination, and 32 percent of them have been the target of physical violence, among other statistics discussed.
In light of the lawsuit that prompted the mandatory training, Martinez said the managers are more likely to be receptive to the information when they understand that they be held personally liable in allegations of prejudice and discrimination at work.
“People come in with their own values and project that on the subject matter. They see it as something they were forced into, not as a class,” Martinez said. “Whether they are for or against LGBTs, as soon as you tell them they are personally responsible, these morals and perceptions they had, go away.”
Sullivan agrees that being held responsible as a manager “really makes them think about their values and obligations,” she said. “Your job is to serve the City of Chicago and beyond and as managers, you need to communicate to your employees your obligation to serve every customer.”
Martinez said he in encouraged by the progress and positive outcomes that have resulted from the training, and that the message they take away, amid all of the statistics and terms and discussions, is basic:
“The most important thing they can understand is that we work and live in a very diverse society and here in Illinois, you have to accept that diverse society and accept people who they are and how they come to work and judge them solely on their performance.”