Ballina Shire Council worker, Emily Finch.
Ballina Shire Council worker, Emily Finch. Claudia Jambor

'I'm not hiding any more': Council staffer out as transwoman

WALKING into work one day as a man and coming back the next as a woman was a daunting prospect for Emily Finch.

The Ballina Shire Council employee's transition to become a woman was layered with the extra challenge of having worked in a male dominated construction environment.

Sporting a bright pink top and a colourful equality badge, Ms Finch exudes confidence. It's hard to imagine she ever had to hide herself from the world.

She recounted what she described as "failed missions" to Lismore from Eltham in a bid to go shopping as Emily.

"I was living two lives, I was coming to Lismore and walking around town, going shopping and doing things - it was a extremely difficult time because I didn't want to be caught by anyone I worked with," she said.

It wasn't until she braved attending a friend's Christmas party as Emily that she realised she couldn't hide her true self any longer.

"It's been a very long process in getting to the point where I went 'I'm not hiding any more'," she said.

The culmination of that process was a sit-down meeting with the council's human resources manager, Kelly Brown.

"I told her and she was completely over the moon supportive. I think there has never been any question of security and support and protection," Ms Finch said.

When general manager, Paul Hickey learnt of Ms Finch's transition he said the "council was committed to providing as much support as needed."

Ms Finch's reintegration back into the workplace in January last year was carefully planned and involved her psychologist Ashley Van Houten and council executives.

After Ms Brown's initial chat with Ms Finch, the pair, Mr Hickey and Dr Van Houten met on the Gold Coast to map out her return to work as Emily.

From there, Mr Hickey said Ms Finch took a few days off while her colleagues and other stakeholders at the council were informed to ensure her seamless reintegration.

"This enabled staff to fully understand management's support to Emily and for staff to be able to ask questions prior to Emily returning back from leave," he said.

"We are very proud of how all levels of staff within the organisation understood and supported Emily when she returned."

Gauging how much support would be needed for staff was one of the main difficulties Mr Hickey recalled during the process. He said it was "a big change" for staff, particularly those who worked with Ms Finch before her transition.

For Ms Finch, there were no "real issues" when she returned to work rather an air of awkwardness and uncomfortableness at first.

She said "some of it was a hypersensitiveness" on her part as she was still completing her transition, which was finalised in March.

"I've relaxed, I've calmed down, the guys have relaxed more we are learning how to deal more with each other and its becoming very normal," Ms Finch said.

At the end of this month, Ms Brown will be presenting with Ms Finch and Dr Van Houten at the ANZPATH Australian New Zealand Professional Association for Transgender Health conference in Brisbane.

The presentation, 'Lets Talk with Rather Than About: Coming out in the workplace', aims to educate other businesses about how the regional council took the steps to reintroduce Ms Finch into the office after transition.

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