Making state agencies work for LGBTQ employees and customers

Gov. Jay Inslee shaking hands with Franklin Plaistowe, assistant director for State Human Resource at the LGBTQ Employee Resource Group in Tumwater, Wash., Jan. 31, 2017
(Official Governor’s Office Photo)

“As long as I am governor, Washington will remain a place where no one can be discriminated against because of who they love, the color of their skin, their country of origin or how they worship.”
With those words, Gov. Jay Inslee kicked off the state’s newly-formed LGBTQ Employee Resource Group Tuesday before more than 300 state employees at the state Labor & Industries office in Tumwater.
The resource group is tasked with implementing the governor’s Safe WA directive issued last year. The initiative’s purpose is to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace for state workers and ensure that Washingtonians in the LGBTQ community can look to public-facing state offices for safe and secure spaces.
“We want to promote diversity and inclusion. Not only is it the right thing to do, we will create better workplaces and provide better services to our customers,” said Dr. John Wiesman, secretary of the Department of Health and the resource group’s executive sponsor. “This kickoff is the start of bringing LGBTQ employees and allies to the table. That is part of our mission as public servants and our responsibility as employers.”
The resource group is tasked with three goals:
•Advise and develop strategies to create safe, diverse and inclusive workplaces for LGBTQ employees and customers.
•Identify best practices, working with the Office of Financial Management’s State Human Resources Division to find innovative work underway to benefit LGBTQ employees and customers statewide and nationally.
•Develop a statewide safe place program modeled on those operated by the Olympia and Seattle police departments that offer safe, secure environments to request help and be connected to support services.
While the directive now applies to all state agencies that report to the governor, the resource group hopes to expand its efforts to other separately elected offices such as the offices of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Attorney General and others.
“We’ve not always had a place at the table for all the communities we serve,” said Franklin Plaistowe, assistant director for State Human Resources. “State government needs to be a place where as an employer we show a commitment to all our employees and demonstrate that they are respected, valued and understood.”
With Wiesman as executive sponsor, the resource group also includes another member of the governor’s cabinet, Lourdes (Alfie) Alvarado-Ramos, director of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.
“This is one of the first state governments to have a LGBTQ resource group for state employees,” Alvarado-Ramos said. “We are working to create a state government of openness, learning and opportunity.”
The resource group is co-chaired by Ellis Israel, a recruitment supervisor with the Department of Licensing, and Justin Taylor, a communications consultant with the Department of Labor and Industries.
When asked about the motivation to get involved in the resource group, Ellis was frank. “As a transgender person, I have not always been able to bring my authentic self to work. It greatly impacted my productivity, my engagement, my work relationships and my service to the public,” they said (“they” being Ellis’s preferred pronoun). “There is currently no enterprise-wide infrastructure in place to help LGBTQ employees. We don’t know how many of us work for the state or what our needs are. This resource group is open to everyone, including allies.”
Participation in the group is voluntary. Employees must have supervisor approval, be able to commit two to three hours a month. Because the group’s efforts are workplace related, participants do not have to take personal or vacation leave. State agencies will support the work and implement inclusion plans and other resources developed by the resource group.
Resource group co-chair Justin Taylor was invigorated by the initial interest and the number of people who attended Tuesday’s meeting. “This is a great start. I am excited about making structural change happen across the state,” he said. “This employee-driven program will involve as many voices as possible. We want to get this right and we want to start positively impacting lives.”
The resource group will meet every month and plans to provide a report to the governor in June with recommendations and updates on progress.
“The governor has shown strong and consistent commitment to this community, from the diversity of leadership that he has brought to his cabinet, where he ensures that cabinet members reflect all of Washington state, to this directive that prioritizes employee-driven efforts to support our LGBTQ employees and customers,” Wiesman said. “It makes a tremendous difference for all people to see themselves reflected in leadership and know that they are a priority.”