Jun 15, 2018

Understanding the “T” in LGBT

Speaker provides insight into life as a transgender woman during PPL event to celebrate PRIDE month.

Pride month, which takes place in June, is an annual celebration of the LGBT community — an acronym that represents a community of individuals much more diverse than a simple, four-letter abbreviation can convey.

The letters stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. However, it is often the “T” that is the most misunderstood.

On June 12, FUSE, PPL’s employee-led business resource group, brought together nearly 50 PPL employees, leaders and members of the community for a lunch and learn to highlight what it means to be transgender. The event featured speaker Madeline Marquardt, owner and president of Ephektiv, Inc., who spoke about her personal journey as a transgender woman.

A longtime partner with PPL, Madeline who began working with the company through her Colorado-based consulting firm as Martin, is credited as one of the driving forces behind the PPL’s Innovation Lab and the location of the event. The Innovation Lab is a space designed to encourage out-of-the-box thinking.

However, it wasn’t until after this project that she stepped out of her box and began her transgender transition.

“I transitioned in 2017, after a long struggle,” said Marquardt. “I was born male but always had an innate knowledge that the gender I identified with was different than what I was born with.”

PPL employees pictured with Madeline Marquardt (center) during a lunch and learn to raise awareness about transgender people.
PPL employees pictured with Madeline Marquardt (center) during a lunch and learn to raise awareness about transgender people.

Transgender refers to a person whose gender identity is different from the sex they were identified as at birth. The transgender umbrella encompasses a wide variety of individuals that identify with gender in different ways. Typically, most are familiar with a transgender woman or man, a person born of one sex but transitions to live life as the opposite sex. Also included under the umbrella are individuals like cross-dressers, who wear clothes associated with a different sex, or gender non-conforming individuals, whose gender expression is different from the conventional expectations of masculinity or femininity.

One of Marquardt’s earliest memories is standing in her mother’s side of the closet as a 5-year-old boy and having a realization that this was the “right” side. But it took 50 years until she had the courage to live as a transgender woman.

“I internalized my struggle and lived in secrecy. My external life didn’t match how I felt inside. This gender anxiety became unbearable and was destroying the relationships that I held dear,” said Marquardt.

Being transgender is complex. Not only are there physical changes one goes through during their transition, but there are interpersonal relationships to consider – like husbands and wives, children and grandchildren and professional lives.

“I was found out by my wife. She was shocked, but we decided to stay together,” said Marquardt. “As a man, I was heterosexual and my wife and I were seen as a heterosexual couple. As a woman, my wife and I are now seen as a lesbian couple but nothing has changed in her orientation. She really is wonderful and we are part of approximately 10 percent of marriages that choose to stay together after one partner transitions.”

Marquardt, who also has three adult sons and three grandchildren, considers herself lucky to have such a supportive and understanding family. She also credits her diverse, open neighborhood, great friends and supportive work relationships, like those with PPL, in making her transition easier.

“Other than my family, Greg Dudkin [president – PPL Electric Utilities] was one of the first people I told about my transition,” said Maquardt. “Without hesitation, he said he was sorry I had to go through this my whole life and asked what he could do to support me.”

It is estimated that there are over 1.5 million transgender people in the U.S. While the transition for each person is unique, the one constant is how much work still needs to be done to promote understanding of a transgender life.

That is why embracing diversity and inclusion in our communities and workplaces isn’t just the “right thing to do,” it is imperative, according to Marquardt. She urged the audience to be curious and be courageous. By asking questions that uncover our hidden differences and choosing to stand up for what is right, the difficult issues of diversity become safe.

Marquardt ended with a personal reflection on her journey.

“Having gone through this, I have more courage,” she said. “I understand struggle like I never did before, but I wouldn’t change it.” Click here to learn more about PPL’s commitment to Inclusion and Diversity.