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NEWS STORY

Joyfully Walking into Work as Marie

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

In 2004, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia was formed. According to the website dayagainsthomophobia.org, the purpose of yearly event is to draw attention to the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTI people internationally.

United Technologies strives to create an accepting and inclusive work environment. Below, you will see such an example, as a Pratt & Whitney Canada employee shares her journey into womanhood, aided by the people at work she has known for decades.

She would lock the door.

A woman.

She would drive to work.

A woman.

But when she got to gas station just minutes from work, she stopped, stepped inside the restroom and quickly walked out.

A man.

Mario.

"It was strange," said Marie Isabelle Gendron, a technical specialist at Pratt & Whitney Canada. "Stopping at a gas station, change, and come to work."

Four years ago, Gendron spent three weeks vacationing in Brazil not as Mario, but Marie. She felt – free. Felt like the person she was meant to be. She knew the woman so relaxed and joyful in Brazil – must return to Canada.

"It's like stepping back a bit. Away from the day to day life with some of the people and taking the time to learn – where do I want to go? It's only there I could envision my self – that I could do it! I don't want to have a big house, big car or whatever," she said. "My biggest dream was to become myself as a woman."

Coming back to Montreal as Marie Isabelle was one emotional hurdle to overcome. But being Marie Isabelle at Pratt & Whitney Canada, where she has worked more than 30 years as a man, was something else. She decided the change to womanhood should happen gradually.

"The main one was the skirt. At the beginning, I said, "Okay." I had some pants. Woman's pants. But it didn't look too fancy. I started during the weekdays for kind of a year, paying attention not to disturb not to much people, it was like a shot," she said. "But the point of time, 2014, I started meeting more psychologists, sexologists – to help."

What she found at Pratt & Whitney Canada was a culture of support and acceptance. Her story was shared with all employees, gender-neutral restrooms were created, and Marie Isabelle began to understand that when her workplace says they are a place of inclusion – they mean it.

"When I met my boss and I said, 'You know, I have no choice. It's not a choice. That's the way I am,'" she said.

Yes, it took time, but Marie Isabelle says the compassion she felt from executives, co-workers and managers was overwhelming. Karen Baker was her rock.

"It's important that the person understands she can rely on and count on the people that she works with – could be the manager, the human resources people, the medical group – to feel that this person is not going through this alone – that her work will also be recognized," said Karen Baker, general manager, New Spare Parts, Services.

"She would take the time, listen…take some action if need be," Gendron said. "It's like a friend at work more or less. She was an important factor. That's one of the key factor – to feel like you are being supported."

Marie's transition at work is a success story because she's accepted as a talented, respected, hospitable co-worker. She's not different – she's – Marie.

In fact, this inclusive work environment recently earned Pratt & Whitney Canada an award from Aide aux trans du Quebec, or, ATQ, a group dedicated to equality for the transgender population.

"To be ourselves is the best gift we could ever be. To be ourselves! The joy is all internal, it's there! It's still sometimes a euphoria to live like I feel, you know?" she said.

Her journey hasn't been easy. Some – friends, family, a partner - did not embrace the transition. But the drive to work is a different story. No longer does she stop at this gas station to change. That life – those clothes – a memory.

A new life – new experiences – a new chance - aided by a place so warm – and so familiar.

"You feel at times like a teenager – like it's a rebirth. It's better than a dream," she said.