By Jane Latus
Imagine the relief of transitioning without fear of repercussions at your job.
Even better, imagine having unwavering—and educated—support from your supervisors and coworkers. And that your medical insurance will cover most aspects of your transition that you choose to pursue. And, finally, that your employer is a health system that has been designated for seven consecutive years a “Leader in LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign.
“I was finally at the point where I said I need to be who I’m gonna’ be,” says trans man Kelly Merrill, a CT Scan Technologist in Middlesex Health’s radiology department, who began their transition in fall 2021. (They began the medical phase, that is, by starting testosterone; their “inner work” had long been underway.)
Merrill already knew Middlesex was renowned for its care of patients in its Center for Gender Medicine and Wellness. “I know we have amazing care for LGBTQ+ patients, and I know if you work at Middlesex, you have to be open to that. You’re caring for all sorts of people. I knew I’d be accepted,” they say.
But they had just moved from working at Middlesex Health Marlborough Medical Center to the Middlesex Hospital in Middletown, with all new coworkers, just before starting their transition. “I didn’t know people well. It was nerve-wracking when I started [testosterone]. I didn’t know how fast my body would change. I didn’t know how I would be perceived,” Merrill says. “Not really knowing anyone and outing yourself to everyone is a lot.”
So, Merrill approached Human Resources. “I asked if there was a way to come out to the whole department.” HR helped them do so. The result? “I have nothing but respect and support. People actually came up to me and congratulated me. People said, ‘You’re really strong.’ It was a relief.”
Merrill says they’ve been fortunate to have support from family and friends as well but can’t overestimate the importance of the support at work. “You spend more time with your coworkers than you do with your family most of the time.”
And now that Merrill has also become a patient at Middlesex, they say they have a broader appreciation for the care it provides. “It’s awesome to be part of the organization and experience it as a patient as well. As a patient, I feel completely comfortable with my providers, along with the staff we have in endocrinology for trans care.
Around the time this magazine goes to press, Merrill will be having top surgery. Post-surgery, they’ll take advantage of Middlesex’s physical therapists, who are experienced in the needs of top surgery patients, like maintaining range-of-motion and managing scar tissue. “I’m really, really excited!” Merrill says about the upcoming surgery. Following top surgery, Merrill will be changing their pronouns to he and him.
Middlesex Health Employee Pride
When Merrill contacted HR for help in announcing their transition, “I wanted to be very upfront and stave off questions like ‘What’s happening with Kelly’s facial hair? Why is their voice cracking like a young boy?’”
Merrill, their supervisor, and HR collaborated on a letter that outlined the health system’s standard of care and respect for all. Merrill’s manager sent the letter out in an email of support. “It was nerve-wracking during the process, because it did take some time,” they say. In the end, Merrill is the one who was surprised, because the coworkers they’d guessed might have negative opinions were instead highly supportive. “It was very eye-opening. I’d prejudged people for no reason.”
Soon, other Middlesex employees won’t have to start from scratch if they need assistance when transitioning at work. A new employee resource group, called MH+PRIDE, is creating a resource guide for use by employees, supervisors, and HR. The guide is just one effort of the new group, whose purpose is to foster a welcoming community for LGBTQ+ employees.
“The resource guide will be something everyone can go to for questions like: ‘Where do I get a new badge? Who do I talk to if someone gives me difficulty?’ It will include sample letters that can help employees announce their transition,” says Lisa Gramlich, physical therapist, and co-chair of MH+PRIDE.
With these tools, says Gramlich, future employees “should have a seamless transition. We want to make it as easy as possible for all.”
MH+PRIDE also intends to provide and promote visibility, support, understanding, education, mentoring and community. Even little things make a big difference. “We rolled out pronoun badges for any employees who want to wear them,” says Gramlich.
They also have fun: they’ll be marching again (at long last!) in the Middletown Pride March. “It’s an incredible feeling, people cheering for you and backing you,” says Gramlich.
Merrill is participating in MH+PRIDE. They say they’re thrilled to pay it forward. “I wouldn’t even be able to transition at work if it wasn’t for all of the elders in the LGBTQ+ community who’ve worked toward and fought for equal rights and allowed ourselves to be who we are freely in the world. Now maybe others will see this and may be comfortable enough to come out or ask for support.”
“We’re known for our patient care,” says Gramlich. “Now we’ve turned the camera, so to speak, to look within and be sure we’re treating our employees as well. It’s a systemwide belief that everyone is allowed to live their life.”
Says Merrill, “It’s really amazing to be a bedside worker, and work with patients daily, and also know we have people at the top working for these changes—and to see the eagerness from the top level.”
Middlesex’s award from the Human Rights Campaign is based on its policies and practices dedicated to equitable treatment and inclusion of not only LGBTQ+ patients, but also employees.