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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Rivers

Is Google a Good Place to Work as a Trans Person?

Transgender pride flag with a Google branded G upside down

Since I came out as a transgender woman back in late September, I have been asked quite a few times if Google was a good place to work as a trans person. And I have struggled with a good answer to this question. I think my friend Sophie Waldman put it very well; “Google is a lovely place to work if you are transgender and don’t care about what is going on in the world”.

The first time I heard her say that it really struck a chord with me. Because Google does treat its trans employees fairly well. Google has great bathroom and locker room policies, trans-friendly healthcare that covers all parts of transitioning, systems to make it easier to change your preferred name and username, and many other good things.

However, the gigantic asterisk by all of those great benefits that Google has is that they were fought for tooth and nail by trans Google employees over the past several years. The only reason that Google treats trans employees so well is because of the tireless efforts of all of those employees and their allies. Not only are they the ones fighting for fair policies, but they are also the ones fixing all of Google’s broken systems which don’t allow for someone to easily change their name or username. There have been dozens of deadnaming bugs internally at Google that were only fixed because a trans employee or ally went out of their way. So I want to thank all Googlers, past and present, who have worked to make Google a more inclusive place for us trans folks.

At the rank-and-file level, there has been a significant effort to make Google more inclusive. However, that same effort hasn’t been made by Google’s C-Suite, SVPS, and VPs (CSVs). For quite some time now, Google CSVs have taken efforts to get us to shut up about the rights and safety of the LGBTQ+ community. Instead of engaging with the Google employees who want to make Google a safer environment internally and externally, Google CSVs have shut down discussion about these topics and attempted to placate us with “listening sessions” that yield no real change.

In March of 2019, Google announced an AI Ethics Council that would “...consider some of Google's most complex challenges that arise under our AI Principles, like facial recognition and fairness in machine learning, providing diverse perspectives to inform our work.” One member of the inaugural council was Kay Coles James. Kay Coles James has made transphobic tweets and is the president of The Heritage Foundation which has blatant transphobic and homophobic policies.

In response to this appointment, many Google employees created a petition to have Kay Coles James removed from the AI Ethics Council. Instead of complying with the petition or engaging in a meaningful discussion, Google CSVs canceled the council entirely, deciding that they would rather have no advisors on ethics than advisors who were consistently pro-trans-rights.

Editor's note and update as of April 4, 2019: It's become clear that in the current environment, ATEAC can't function as we wanted. So we're ending the council and going back to the drawing board. We'll continue to be responsible in our work on the important issues that AI raises, and will find different ways of getting outside opinions on these topics
Editors note left on the announcement of the ATEAC

In the weeks leading up to the SF Pride parade, YouTube had been caught up in reports of allowing hate speech on its platform. Many of these videos included blatantly transphobic and harassing content, and the videos weren’t removed until concerted action by the LGBTQ+ community and allies at Google.

Many rank-and-file Google employees were upset by YouTube’s refusal to apply its policies fairly to LGBTQ+ content and harassing content, but when one employee asked for permission to express those sentiments at Pride, they were told that if anyone protested, they would be considered in violation of Google’s communications policy. When asked what specific consequences they would face from protesting, employees were told "... employees will need to contact individually Code of Conduct team [email redacted] for any further questions on this".

Front of 2019 San Francisco Pride Parade with a large poster which says "Resist"
2019 SF Pride Parade

Many of the Google employees who were upset about not being allowed to protest created a petition asking SF Pride to ban Google from marching due to Google’s actions regarding YouTube Policy and refusal to allow public employee protests. I along with many others signed this petition. As expected, SF Pride did not prevent Google from appearing in the parade, but they did allow some of us who had signed the petition to march with the “Resistance Contingent” at the front of the parade.

In the following weeks and months, YouTube managers held “Listening Sessions” where they would supposedly listen to the concerns that we had with YouTube’s policies and the lack of equal enforcement. These meetings were nothing more than a token gesture by YouTube CSVs to get us to shut up and get back to work. The fact of the matter is YouTube wants to make money, and they will do anything to increase their bottom line – even allow hate and harassment to exist on their platform.

I signed many of these petitions, and was involved in many other forms of activism and organizing at Google. I have also seen how Google has treated other organizers and activists, and that genuinely made me concerned.

And so, I came out as transgender 6+ months sooner than I had originally planned because I was afraid that Google might out me as trans in retaliation for my activism and organizing efforts. I was scared after I spoke out about Google banning protests at SF Pride. I was scared after being interrogated by Google’s Global Investigations team for my involvement in the No GCP for CBP petition. It was a real possibility.

And for those of you who think that these fears are unfounded, Google actually did out me to my apartment complex after they fired me. I did everything I could to make sure Google’s information was up to date. I even verified my name and mailing address with HR during the phone call in which I was fired, and in a follow-up email. But once I was fired, they mailed me my final paycheck in a FedEx package addressed to my deadname.

I don’t use my deadname for packages, so it was given to the Main Office, meaning I had to out myself to my apartment complex to get the package. I can’t imagine how devastating that would have been if I had been outed while I was still in the closet.

Google has retaliated against Meredith Whittaker, Claire Stapleton, Chelsey Glasson, and many, many others. Now myself and the other individuals fired at the end of last year have been added to the list. 3 of the 5 people fired were trans. 4 of the 5 people fired were LGBTQ+.

So, do I think that Google is a good place to work if you are trans?



Images from Wikimedia

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