Transgender Advocates Stephanie Battaglino and Mari Rosenberger on Workplace Transition and Finding Love

As part of our support for the media coverage around Chaz Bono’s casting on “Dancing with the Stars” and an increasing amount of transgender-specific coverage in general, GLAAD is continuing to profile prominent transgender advocates and members of the community on a weekly basis. Previously, we spoke with Laverne Cox and Jamison Green, Ph.D. This week, we talked to Stephanie Battaglino and Mari Rosenberger about their careers, their work in transgender advocacy for employees, and their relationship. Stephanie and Mari recently appeared on The Insider, showing their support for Chaz along with fellow transgender advocates.

Both Stephanie and Mari’s roles as advocates are tied to their transitions. As Assistant Vice President – Meetings Director at a major life insurance company in New York, Stephanie transitioned in October 2005 and was the first transgender person to do so at the company. During that time, she worked with the company’s human resources executives to implement a process for workplace transition and went on to help form the company’s LGBT employee network. In addition to her transgender advocacy in the workplace, Stephanie is active with a number of LGBT organizations, serving on the Board of Directors of both the LGBT Community Center of New York and the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF). She is also a member of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates’ Transgender Advisory Committee, who awarded her a scholarship to complete UCLA’s prestigious LGBT Leadership Institute Program. Of her advocacy work, Stephanie says, “I have worked in corporate America my entire career – I know the landscape and the politics of it well, so in discerning how best to be an advocate for my community, it was a logical place for me to begin my efforts to ‘move the needle’ with respect to transgender equality.”

When Mari transitioned, she had already retired from 20 years of service in the U.S. Air Force as a flyer, staff officer, and instructor. Living in Nevada at a time when the state had no employment protections for transgender people, she began doing call center work. Though she acknowledges that her experience was not nearly as bad as those of many other transgender people she knows, Mari was still subject to discrimination while transitioning in her workplace. Speaking of that time in her life, she says, “If anything, my transition, on the job…has driven some of my advocacy, with hopes that in the future, others will not have to put up with some of the fear-driven responses I battled.” Mari went on to help found a grassroots organization that became the basis for what would eventually become Equality Nevada and became active in the movement to add gender identity and expression to Nevada’s employee non-discrimination policy. She has also spoken to LGBT youth at Sylvia’s Place and, along with Stephanie, to college students at various universities. She recently graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Paralegal Certificate program and interned as a legal assistant at TLDEF.

Following their respective transitions and increased involvement with transgender advocacy, Mari and Stephanie found each other.  Having first met at the 2007 Southern Comfort Conference in Atlanta, which is committed to addressing the diverse needs of the transgender community, the two continued to casually cross paths before finally connecting online. As Mari recalls, their relationship began with letters and notes, until they were able to spend time together on the East Coast. “I think we can agree on the statement that we hit it off,” Mari tells GLAAD. After spending time together, Mari returned to Nevada, where months later she quit her job, packed up her things, and drove across the country with Stephanie to New Jersey. They arrived there on New Year’s Eve, just in time to start the year together.

GLAAD thanks Stephanie and Mari for taking the time to speak with us and applauds them both for their amazing strides towards improving the lives of transgender employees.