When Luke Lew walks across stage and graduates in May, he wants the announcer to state his name. But as a transgender male, the legal steps for changing his name will be much more difficult than the hassle people face to do the same after marriage.
Name change hurdles are among the policies that make trans people’s lives harder than necessary. For example, companies’ benefits packages often exclude trans employees through health insurance contracts denying procedures such as gender reassignment surgery, breast reduction or augmentation, facial feminization, and hair transplants.
Lew aims to carve out a career addressing companies’ discriminatory practices, which he says usually reflect lack of education, and not ill intent. Through Robinson’s Flexible MBA program, he is pursuing a concentration in organization management. The customized curriculum has exposed him to business operations as well as how behind-the-scenes functions affect and even limit the implementation of change.
“My dream is to run my own consulting business that helps employers understand how their HR policies and benefits could be unintentionally exclusionary,” Lew said.
Lew’s track record of LGBTQ advocacy is extensive. As a teen, he participated in his high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance and served as an Atlanta Pride volunteer. While pursuing a B.S. in public policy from Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, he interned at Georgia Equality and the LGBTQ Institute. During the beginning of his MBA studies, Lew held a graduate assistantship in the university’s Office of the Provost, where he assisted with diversity, equity and inclusion communications. He also was a founding board member of Robinson’s Society for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Business. All that effort helped him land a sponsorship from the Point Foundation, a nonprofit that empowers LGBTQ students to reach their full academic and leadership potential.
For Lew, staying active in the LGBTQ community isn’t just about earning his chops. These organizations also enabled him to come out in a safe space.
“It was my way of soft launching before coming out socially, and gauging people’s reactions,” Lew said. “It took a lot for me to transition, and I wanted to be smart about it. My LGBT activism helped me create a positive and accepting environment for when I officially came out.”
The cisgender population probably takes for granted the relative ease with which they can be themselves in society and access healthcare. Just acknowledging that privilege is a great first step in supporting the trans community. According to Lew, another expression of allyship is standing up for transgender peers when their pronouns are misused in public.
“If you have a friend who identifies with pronouns that are different from what people assume, you could check in and ask, ‘Do you mind if I correct people who mess up your pronouns?’” Lew explained. “Sometimes it can be easier to stand up for others than for yourself. During the 5 years I was socially out before medically transitioning, other people’s support of my pronouns uplifted me.”
After Lew started testosterone, his appearance changed and his voice dropped. He was surprised by the male privilege he received as a result.
“Now that I look and sound like a cisgender male, people listen when I speak. Before that, I constantly got interrupted or ignored,” Lew said. “It took me a minute to realize why I felt so uncomfortable when I would speak. It was because I wasn’t used to people actually listening to me.”
The finalization of his name change will be a huge weight off Lew’s shoulders. And hopefully one day, the process for trans name change applicants won’t consume the better part of a year and hundreds of dollars.
“Shaming someone for their gender or sexual identity isn’t going to change them,” Lew said. “Ultimately, I want to inspire people to build more empathy and awareness.”