Creating LGBTQ+ Inclusive Environments: Agency Policies and Practices

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LGBTQI+ individuals continue to experience significantly higher rates of discrimination than non-LGBTQI+ individuals, a trend that holds true in virtually every setting surveyed—including health care, employment, housing, and public spaces, according to a 2022 survey by the Center for American Progress.

The survey also revealed that:

  • More than 1 in 3 LGBTQI+ adults reported facing some kind of discrimination in the year prior to when they took the survey, while fewer than 1 in 5 non-LGBTQI+ individuals did so.
  • Half of LGBTQI+ adults reported experiencing some form of workplace discrimination or harassment in the past year because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status.
  • Nearly 3 in 10 LGBTQI+ adults reported experiencing some kind of housing discrimination or harassment in the past year because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status.
  • Nearly 4 in 5 LGBTQI+ adults reported they took at least one action to avoid experiencing discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status.
  • More than 1 in 5 LGBTQI+ adults reported postponing or avoiding medical care in the past year due to disrespect or discrimination by providers.
  • Approximately 1 in 3 LGBTQI+ adults reported encountering at least one kind of negative experience or form of mistreatment when interacting with a mental health professional in the past year.

Discrimination has substantial adverse effects on economic, physical, and mental well-being, and many LGBTQI+ individuals alter their behavior to avoid experiencing such discrimination.

An Opportunity for LGBTQ+ Inclusivity in Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies

Faced with these discriminatory practices and their adverse side effects, state-federal vocational agencies are called to create and uphold policies and practices that are intentionally inclusive of people who identify as LGBTQ+. Such policies can create and sustain environments that are welcoming and inclusive of everyone, leading to improved employment and quality of life outcomes for all.

When reviewing an agency’s policies and practices, consider the following:

Chosen Names and Pronouns

Often, we automatically make assumptions about a person’s pronoun based on their name. An agency’s policy can clearly spell out how avoid making assumptions that could result in making a person feel unseen or discriminated again.

An example of such a policy could be:

Consistent with code of ethics “do no harm” when an individual identifies as transgender, gender non-conforming, and/or non-binary, and/or reports their gender and indicates a chosen name other than their legal name and specifies gender pronouns, counselors, staff, and employees will use the chosen name and specified gender pronoun when working with that individual, regardless of whether the counselor, staff, or employee believes the individual's gender to be different than what the individual has identified/reported.

To raise awareness and normalize the use of preferred pronouns, agency staff could be encouraged to display their preferred pronouns when comfortable doing so in their email signature block and next to their name on web conferencing platforms.

Also, consider the policies and mechanisms in place for your agency to be able to safely, and with consent, share chosen names and share pronouns of clients with others when making referrals.

Witnessing Deliberate Misgendering

If agency counselor of staff member witnesses continuous and deliberate misgendering of client by another agency counselor or staff member, this deliberate action should be reported to office manager/supervisor. If the office manager or supervisor continuously and deliberately misgenders clients, action should be reported to the next level up in the chain of command.

Religious Beliefs Cited for Non-Adherence to Policy

If an employee cites religious beliefs or other reasons for not adhering to policy, the agency can cite the CRC Code of Ethics calls for “Do No Harm” and “Avoiding Value Imposition” to uphold the policy.

Intake Process

When examining an agency’s intake process, think about…

  • Is there space for chosen names and preferred pronouns on intake materials?
  • Is there a policy regarding restrooms and restroom use?
  • Do the counseling and referral processes include the chosen name and preferred pronouns?

Recording RSA 911 Gender Data

Vocational rehabilitation counselors must record gender on the management information system on the client’s profile as part of RSA 911 data collection. For the purposes of the management information system (MIS) record, the RSA-911 does not require "legal" gender; instead, gender is as reported by the client

Gender options for RSA 911 data include male, female, or not identified. Policy examples for recording reported gender in MIS for purpose of RSA 911 include:


If client identifies as male (including as a trans* or transgender man) - for RSA gender is reported as "male."


If client identifies as female (including as a trans* or transgender woman) - for RSA gender is reported as "female."


If client identifies as non-binary - for RSA gender is reported as "not identified."


If client identifies as a Transgender Man, RSA gender is reported as "male"/If client identifies as Transgender Woman, RSA gender is reported as "female"/If client identifies as a Non-Binary Transgender person, RSA gender is reported as "not identified."


if client identifies in any other way, RSA gender is reported as "not identified."

Legally Transitioned

If the client has legally transitioned, (i.e. government identification reflects name and affirmed gender), the MIS record should reflect name and pronoun consistent with legal documentation.

Note: Some transgender folks identify within the binary (i.e. male/female) and as such should be reported based on what the client reports as their gender. While the category of "Transgender" in addition to Male/Female seems duplicative, it is in fact not, as some people, even transgender men and women who identify as men and women, may still want an option to indicate their Trans identity. By offering both options, this means clients are free to disclose their transgender identity should they wish to, especially if the individual may be assumed to be cisgender when they are actually transgender.

Respect Client Confidentiality

Vocational rehabilitation professionals understand that trust is the foundation of a therapeutic counseling relationship. They are bound to respect confidentiality by the CRCC Code of Ethics, Section B.

Just as VR professionals don’t disclose client’s disability diagnoses and personal disclosures without a release of information, it is vital that they don’t disclose identity to an employer, family member, and/or other provider without an individual’s consent.

Support for Agency Staff Who Might Identify as LGBTQ+

A policy alone cannot provide support or protect a person from harassment or discrimination, but it can set expectations for behavior and provide a course of action for reporting unethical behavior.

When reviewing your agency’s policy, consider:

  • What policies are in place to protect agency staff from harassment?
  • Does your agency have a resource or affinity group for LGBTQ+ employees?
  • What mechanisms are in place for reporting harassment or mistreatment, either of a colleague or client? What if the harasser is a superior?

Agency Training

To reinforce and uphold inclusive policies and practices, agencies can consider mandated, ongoing training for all agency staff, counselors, and employees around working with LGBTQ+ clients and peers. Education could include:

  • Training for all new agency staff, counselors, and employees around working with LGBTQ+ clients and peers.
  • Ongoing training for all agency staff, counselors, and employees around working with LGBTQ+ clients and peers.
  • Agencies support for participation in external training workshops and programs designed to educate service providers working with LGBTQ+ populations.
  • Training on how to intervene when bullying occurs and/or misgendering occurs.
Important: Training should include statements from LGBTQ+ persons and/or testimony of lived experience. As with disability, the principal of “Nothing about us without us” applies.

Employer and Community Education

As noted above, half of LGBTQ+ adults reported experiencing some form of workplace discrimination or harassment in the past year because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status.

Vocational rehabilitation agencies can actively work to reduce workplace discrimination by coordinating with job developers, community rehabilitation providers, and business outreach specialists to provide training on creating inclusive and affirming environments for LGBTQ+ individuals. In partnership with local LGBTQ+ resource centers, they can provide training to:

  • Employers
  • Local Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) Chapters
  • Rotary Clubs and other community organizations
  • Chambers of Commerce

Continuous Self-Reflection and Education

Continuous self-reflection and education within an agency are critical for policies and practices to take root and become part of the agency culture. Agencies can nurture an inclusive culture by encouraging all staff to:

  • Be inclusive and use language that is inclusive, both in-person and in documentation.
  • Maintain awareness of the imbalances of power and privilege inherent in a counseling relationship.
  • Critically reflect on personal biases and the use of both verbal and nonverbal language that may signal an unwelcome or unsafe space.
  • Be knowledgeable about identity and ask clients informed questions when appropriate.
  • Familiarize themselves with local resources and develop connections with LGBTQ+ partners in the community.

Source: The information above was created by the Center for Innovative Training in Vocational Rehabilitation (CIT-VR) at The George Washington University. Check out their training series listed below!

Resources to Learn More

Creating and nurturing an inclusive environment is a complex and ongoing process. We encourage you to use these resources to learn more about LGBTQ+, disability, and the vocational rehabilitation system:

On-Demand Training

Additional Resources

Note: The internet is full of misinformation about people who identify as LGBTQ+. When researching this topic, we encourage you to use these resources to critically evaluate your source of information:

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