AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators



LGBT Week: Joe Heimlich on Including Trans When We Talk of Gender

Hi. I’m Joe Heimlich, a professor at Ohio State, senior research associate with the Institute for Learning Innovation, and member of the LGBT TIG. I’d like to share some thoughts on including transgender in our discussions of gender when we gather data.

In a study of gay and lesbian museum visitors, I was struck by statements of gay male couples with children about what keeps them from visiting—the desire to avoid the risk of their children hearing negative and potentially hurtful comments made toward the family. This study and subsequent work have led me to thinking how much more of a challenge it would be for a trans individual to engage with children or family in a public place. This was brought home when a MTF pre-op trans shared that she would love to feel comfortable enough to take her grandchildren to the zoo. How might we use evaluation to make a place “safer” for different people?

Clearly, one way to start is by letting people know there is an expectation of presence. For my work, that is doable by including an ‘ask’ in the demographics, and I’ve started asking sex with the options of Male, Female, and Trans. Does it work? In a science center, which along with zoos are likely the most family-oriented of the scientific-cultural institutions, we included the ask on what will be a year-long, roll-out study. The first component of the study is completed and we found: there were no trans individuals identified, and few respondents reacted to our asking. In fact, out of the 250 responses, there were two positive reactions inserted (“awesome you have this option” and “good job including this”) and two negative (“you had an agenda” and “transgender is not a scientific category. It is a social construct. You should be ashamed”).

Did the inclusion of trans give us important data? No. Did the inclusion of trans make a statement? We think so. And with few comments and those equally split, the response clearly suggests to me that the inclusion of the ask as an effort for creating a safe space is done with far less risk than we had anticipated.

Rad Resources: The transgender site for the American Psychological Association provides a well grounded introduction to transgenderism. And, here’s an interesting discussion on the American Library Association website about asking gender, including transgender.

Hot Tip: We all know evaluations can teach by revealing expectations and by creating perceptions through what is asked/how it is asked. Consider how your demographics suggest to people what is normal and expected—are we really allowing individuals to comfortably see themselves (seriously—is “check all that apply” really showing me I’m considered an equal?)?

We’re celebrating LGBT Evaluation week with our colleagues in AEA’s LGBT Topical Interest Group. Follow @aeaweb on twitter this week, or subscribe to the week’s Headlines and Resources list for more LGBT Evaluation items of note. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.



  • Tobi Lippin · February 13, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Hi Joe,
    Thanks for sharing your results and examples of when trans data could be useful. When I used the same gender answer choices in a survey for a client, I received some very useful feedback from the leader of the GLBT Policy Advocacy group in my state. He shared that some trans folks may identify with their new gender vs. trans and that such choices didn’t include the full range of options. Now this may not go over with those who see gender as a dichotomous choice–but his suggestion was to include options such as: trans: male to female, trans: female to male. In addition, I might suggest that when we create option choices for gender we may need to expand this choice to check all that apply versus check one. Let’s continue this dialogue!


  • Kirsten Ellenbogen · February 11, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    Hi Joe – extremely useful as always. You’re guidance on shifting questions about gender in our evaluations has been very productive and positively received. I was reminded today of how easy it is to confound instruments and analyses around gender by this little gem in Wired:
    Another example of how supposedly objective analysis can be not only hurtful, but also altogether incorrect.


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