Six months after Louisville Free Public Library administrators prohibited a transgender employee from wearing a button stating their preferred pronoun, a compromise has been reached. As a result, any library employee can now have such pronouns listed on their name badge, and LFPL has updated its training on transgender issues available to all staff.
Valerie Pfister, an adult library assistant at the Shawnee branch, had worn a black and white button at work for the past three years stating “They Them,” which are the pronouns Pfister prefers to be addressed with, instead of she/her or he/him.
“It made me feel more comfortable when I was at work,” said Pfister. “I knew it was the only shot I had at people gendering me correctly. But I also didn’t really get offended when people misgendered me, it was just to benefit my mental health.”
Pfister never had an incident with a library patron over the button, but was prohibited from wearing it by administrators early this summer after Pfister filed an incident report when a patron “just went off and started yelling at me about how I was a lady.”
Soon after the report was filed, Pfister said the two administrators indicated they were sorry about the incident and brought up the possibility of having a transgender 101 training for library staff — though adding that Pfister could no longer wear the button because it was against the dress code.
“She said that I wasn’t allowed to wear it because it didn’t relate to my work duties, while at the same time it’s kind of a thing for library staff to wear Harry Potter buttons or things that aren’t directly related to library duties or books,” said Pfister. “It kind of felt like I was being targeted because I had an issue with a patron, but the patron didn’t even complain about the actual button.”
Told that a formal grievance would have to be filed to dispute the decision, Pfister did so with the help of co-worker and AFSCME Local 3425 steward Ashley Sims, along with the Fairness Campaign. Shortly after the grievance was filed, LFPL director James Blanton and Metro Human Resources director J.P. Hamm met with Pfister and Sims in early July.
According to Pfister and Sims, both administrators told them the button was unprofessional and against the dress code, with Hamm allegedly drawing a comparison to allowing an employee to wear a KKK button if Pfister could wear the pronoun button.
“Their argument seemed to be that the pronoun button is inherently political, which we held it is not, it’s part of Valerie’s identity,” Sims told IL.
Despite being “shocked and upset” by such comparisons, Pfister raised the possibility of a compromise, which was accepted: giving library employees the option of having pronouns on their official name badges. Additionally, they agreed to Pfister’s suggestion of updating the city’s transgender 101 training and offering it to any library employee.
Content with the compromise, Pfister agreed not to wear the pronoun button until the new name badge was delivered. However, four months passed and Pfister still had not received the new name badge; administrators said the delay was because they had to do research to make sure this was done in the proper way.
In November, library officials finally offered a form in which employees could have pronouns added to their name badge, but the pronouns were to be placed before the names where titles typically go, like Mr. and Mrs. Pfister told administrators this was not acceptable, as “that’s how titles work, but that’s not how pronouns work. We wanted that after our names or under our names. It’s not right in front of the names, because that confuses everyone. If another trans person walks in and sees the badge, they’re not even going to know what that means.”
Last week, administrators once again met with Pfister and Sims — this time jointed by Fairness Campaign director Chris Hartman — and a final resolution was reached, with the pronouns now being offered in parentheses after their names, if so requested.
Six months after the initial incident, both Pfister and Sims received their new name badges this week. After both being involved in helping to update what they said was outdated city training on transgender issues, the first training class for library employees quickly filled up and a second class was then offered. By next summer, it is hoped that the new training will be available to all Metro Government employees.
LFPL spokesman Paul Burns told IL that “the issue with the button was not the messaging on the button. It was a dress code thing that we do not allow people to wear buttons that are not library-related buttons… it’s just part of our professional dress code. That was the issue.”
Asked to explain the long delay for Pfister to receive a name badge with the pronouns, Burns said: “I think this is a new issue, so you want to make sure you’re evaluating what works best from a customer service standpoint, but also from the employee feeling comfortable in the workplace. So I think we were just trying to come up with a solution that would do all of those things, and making sure we were evaluating all of the issues and concerns.”
Hartman says Metro Government typically does a good job on transgender issues, citing LMPD’s recent handling of a transitioning police officer. While disappointed with Pfister’s long delay due to red tape and not being allowed to wear the button in the first place, he’s happy a compromise has been reached.
“As much time as it took and as frustrating as that has been — with the knowledge that it should not have taken this much time — at the very least the library never stopped working on the situation and working with the folks involved in the situation,” said Hartman. “And now at the end there’s a compromise that is acceptable to Valerie and the rest of those involved. And that’s the right place to get.”
Sims also is pleased a compromise was reached but still takes issue was the “ridiculous” delay and Pfister being forced to take off the button: “I still hold that employees should be able to identify themselves as LGBTQ with an unobtrusive thing such as a button, just like Christians can wear crosses.”
Pfsister is happy to finally have a name badge, but looks back at their struggle during this process and believes that much of it came from administrators “not understanding non-binary identities, not listening to me and my experience as a trans person. I don’t think it was personal or malicious at all, they just didn’t get it, the communication wasn’t working.”
“I really love working for the library,” said Pfister. “Some at my branch don’t really get it yet, because some are older, but they’re always really supportive and they try really hard to gender me correctly at work. And that’s been great. And I’m really glad that employees at other branches now can identify themselves as trans, if they’re comfortable doing that, and have a chance of being gendered correctly. Just because that conversation is really hard to have to begin with. I probably wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t work with such great people at my branch. And it’s really great to see a policy change.”