By Monica F. Helms
As an activist for the transgender community, I never know when an opportunity will come up to educate a company or an organization. Sometimes it’s by accident and other times it’s intentional. However way it comes about, myself and others have to take the time to help them understand. To me, the opportunity happened with Boost Mobile, whose parent company is Sprint Nextel, the company I’ve worked for nearly twenty years.
The education of Boost Mobile on trans issues started with this commercial featuring Danica Patrick as their new spokesperson:
As you can see, this commercial just looks plane dumb on the visual level, but it also uses men in women’s clothes in a negative context. Trans people who saw this commercial went ballistic. Even though the commercial does not specifically make fun of trans people, out of the 300 million Americans, many will use this as another excuse to discriminate and hold back equality for Transgender Americans.
Then, thanks to Helen Boyd, I saw this piece that shows the producer and Danica Patrick defending the content of commercial:
If Boost Mobile had not been part of Sprint Nextel, I would have viewed the commercial, posted a comment on Facebook, tell some important LGBT organizations and let them take on this issue. However, I have access inside the company, allowing me to get names and contact information of people responsible for this commercial. After telling my supervisor and my manager about this, I contacted HR about the issue.
I have had to deal with HR for a few issues in the past, including applying for an opening in HR and I have always had a great experience with them. I am up front on who I and that I am one of Sprint’s transsexual employees. I also give them a background on my activities outside of Sprint, to give them an idea that I know what I am speaking of. It sets the tone for the conversation.
This experience proved to be no different. I explained to the woman why myself and the transgender community find the commercial offensive, then I framed it to how it affects me at work. Every time I go onto the company intranet, I see a picture of Danica Patrick, which reminds me of the commercial. I would feel uncomfortable when my co-workers would make snide remarks about the depiction of the pit crew in the commercial, make my work environment a bit more “hostile.”
She listened and totally agreed with me on all of this, even admitting to have seen the commercial and was not happy about it herself. She promised to take this issue up with her manager and see what the next steps can be.
I also had plans for a next step. The next day, my supervisor did some research for me to locate the VP of Marketing for Boost Mobile. When she found him I shot off an inter-company E-mail requesting a few moments of his time about this new commercial. He sent an E-mail back saying that the Advertisement Manager would talk with me. She sent me an E-mail with a time for us to talk.
Before my conversation with the Advertisement Manager took place, I sat and thought of how I would approach this. With something of this magnitude, I realized I needed to look at the big picture as far as the company was concern. They spent a great deal of money on this commercial and to have Danica Patrick as a spokesperson and that nothing short of a major lawsuit would get the commercial pulled. Knowing this going into these conversations, I decided to change my goal; one of educating Sprint and Boost. I later realized that made good sense. However, I know that many in the transgender community would not agree with my strategy, but they don’t have to work for this company and I do.
My conversation with the Advertisement Manager went very well. She explained the intent of the commercial and that the idea that Danica Patrick is competing in a traditionally male sport and doing it very well. Men dominate all aspects of the sport, so having her pit crew being forced into female attire went against all gender stereotypes.
I could easily see the intent of the commercial, but I informed her that many Americans pick up on things like this and read something totally different into them. They use a commercial like this and would say, “You see! If you give rights to transgender people, we’ll see men dressed like this all over the place! Hell, we’ll even see men dressed like this teaching our children!” She understood my viewpoint and that of transgender community.
Later that day, the HR person called me back to give me an update of her progress. She passed this onto several people and they had a discussion with other people in Boost on how to handle this. They suggested that I also speak with the Public Relations Director for Boost Mobile and that she would set it up for me. I told her about my progress as well. She said I was acting very professional.
Then, on that very same day, the VP of Marketing called me on my way home. He had heard of my conversation with the Advertising Manager and the intervention from HR and wanted to personably reassure me that the intention of the commercial was not to make fun of trans people, but surprisingly understood how it could be seen that way by the transgender community. He then apologized for the fact that some trans people were offended by this.
As of writing this piece, I haven’t had the chance to speak with the Public Relations Director for Boost Mobile, but I have a feeling the conversation will go the same. I’m hoping that maybe, just maybe, I can convince Boost Mobile to do something for the transgender community to help smooth out this issue further. That is something for another time. As far as I see it, they owe us one.