The Equity Talk: Despite the diversity reckoning of 2020, trans voices are still largely missing from corporate plans for the future

The Equity Talk: Despite the diversity reckoning of 2020, trans voices are still largely missing from corporate plans for the future
Samantha Lee/Insider
  • Anti-trans legislation and attacks have reached record highs in 2021.
  • For Trans Awareness Week, Insider spoke with two trans advocates who help educate CEOs.

Trans people are more visible than ever before in media and pop culture, but with visibility comes increased transphobic violence.


Data from Insider's Transgender Homicide Project showed that 2021 is on track to be the deadliest year for trans people in recorded US history. As trans Black women and femmes face unprecedented rates of violence, trans youth are being subjected to anti-trans legislation — bills curtailing their participation in sports and their ability to have gender-affirmation surgeries covered by health insurance.

Despite the racial reckoning of 2020, Dave Chappelle's comedy controversy, and some CEOs defending LGBTQ rights, many trans and nonbinary activists say Black and brown trans lives, and more broadly all trans lives, are still not being included in corporate plans to become more diverse.

For Trans Awareness Week, which runs from November 13 to 19, Insider's Canela López and Marguerite Ward spoke with two leading activists helping business leaders get serious about protecting trans lives. Sean Ebony Coleman is a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant and the founder of the LGBTQ nonprofit center Destination Tomorrow, and Kayden Coleman (no relation) is a DEI consultant who educates brands and medical professionals on trans-inclusive language and practices with his company, Papa Seahorse Inc. Both said CEOs need to step up now.

"This is not something that we should have to be fighting for," Kayden Coleman said. "We are all human beings at the end of the day, whether or not you agree, accept, or understand, we deserve all of the things that make a healthy, safe life."


This interview has been edited and condensed.

2020 was a year of racial reckoning. CEOs have been pressured to take diversity, equity, and inclusion seriously. But what about Black trans lives? Do you feel CEOs are recognizing Black trans lives?

Kayden Coleman: Black people as a whole are not being listened to by CEOs. So when you add that extra layer of being trans, you really delve into a space of which a lot of people are not used to. You're asking people to step out of this learned behavior that trans people are deviants and things of that nature, while also asking them to step out of learned anti-Blackness. In the work that I do, I get a lot of pushback from people.

Sean Coleman: I agree. I think one of the things that any CEO can do is step outside of their circle. If you are constantly going to the same two or three people for advice when it comes to the trans community and they aren't people from the trans community or a Black or brown trans person, that's a problem. You don't have a complete picture of what the trans experience actually means and some of the challenges that Black and brown trans folks experience. So my advice would be to step outside of your immediate circle.

I am a subject-matter expert in my life. I need folks to trust that I know what I'm saying when I tell you what I need, and then I need you to invite me into these spaces.


2021 is on track to be the deadliest year for trans lives. At the same time, there's been more visibility. Singer Demi Lovato came out as nonbinary. Elliot Page came out as transgender. How are you feeling about the rights of trans and nonbinary people right now?

Sean Coleman: I'm hopeful because we're having discussions like this. But I'm also a bit nervous because I don't want folks to conflate being visible with being safe.

While it's great that Demi Lovato and Elliot Page are now living in their truth, it doesn't necessarily translate to a trans or nonbinary person who happens to be, maybe, in the South Bronx or somewhere in LA because they don't have the same access to privilege and safe spaces.

We need to continue to have layered discussions around what safety looks like for everyone. We need to address what the root causes are behind this kind of violence.

The Human Rights Council Foundation led an increase in the number of major US employers offering transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage. It's gone from 49 in 2009 to 949 at the end of 2020. What are additional measures that executives need to take?


Kayden Coleman: It's not enough to just provide healthcare. Healthcare doesn't matter if the employees don't exist in your spaces. If you have trans-inclusive healthcare but only one or two trans employees, who's that really benefiting?

I'm a firm believer that the "LGB" is one sector and the "T" is another. I exist as a "G entity" as a gay transmasculine person. But that doesn't mean that a cisgender gay man knows my plight. They don't know my experience. I know my experience because I've had to survive it. We need to bring trans people in to do the work with business leaders, and we need to pay them for this work.

When you talk about transness, you also need to understand that identities intersect. So we're talking about trans rights, but we also need to be talking about racism, anti-Blackness, disability, etc. Bringing in an able-bodied, palatable white person who qualifies as LGBTQ is not sufficient.

For equity to happen, we have to have a serious discussion with our allies. Like, we have all these folks that are allies, but they're taking up space. So if you truly want to be an ally, allow us that platform to come in and say, "This is what's going to work." Lend me your platform.

In May, 95 companies voiced their opposition to the wave of anti-LGBTQ bills in this country, in a letter written in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign. However, some large companies did not sign or comment. What's your message to the companies that did not sign?


Sean Coleman: I want companies to understand that this is a concentrated effort. It shouldn't be lost on anyone that at the same time that trans athletes and trans youth, a woman's right to choose is being attacked, and voting rights are under attack. They're coming at it from a few different angles, but it's all the same result. And it's to have control over someone else's life. We need to figure out how we work together.

For the companies that decided not to speak out against these bills, it's kind of hard to be a voice for a community that you probably don't hire, that you probably don't have any relationship with, right? So what I'm going to say to them is do better. You have the opportunity to be on the right side of history.

Kayden Coleman: To the companies that are either remaining silent or just blatantly refusing to stand up for trans people, the message that you're sending is that you don't see us as human beings. You don't think that we deserve to live equal lives.

To the people who are standing up for us, I love to see it. Keep it going and advocate for it more. Call these people in power and ask them why they're not doing the things that they should be doing.

Editor's note: In the recorded interview, Insider's journalists said Target did not sign the Human Rights Campaign letter, citing a report from Yahoo News. However, a representative from Target told Insider that the retailer did, in fact, sign the letter. Walmart and Disney, the other companies mentioned, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.