Equality Institute

Equality Insights Blog

An Explanation of TSA's Transgender Policy

Many of our clients are in the travel industry and a common question that arises is about the rules the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has about transgender travelers. Here's the lowdown: 

Part One, TSA ID checkpoint: The policy starts out pretty simple. When a traveler approaches a TSA agent to present their ticket and ID, if the name on the ID matches the name on the ticket, there should be no issues, even if the traveler's gender presentation does not match the photo on the ID. The agent should NOT challenge the traveler. Therefore, a transgender traveler who does not have an ID (or even a name) that reflects their current gender identity should buy their ticket using the name and gender on their ID, whatever that happens to be, even if they are uncomfortable using their "dead" name (their name given at birth).

Part Two, Screening: This is where things get tricky, particularly for travelers who do not have TSA Pre which uses a less invasive screener. We recommend that transgender travelers get TSA Pre to avoid potentially uncomfortable situations. When a traveler approaches the screening machine that requires you to put your arms over your head, the agent presses a button assigning that traveler a "male" or "female" gender based on their best guess. The machine is programmed to look for traditional anatomical characteristics of those genders and trigger a secondary screening if there's an aberration. For example, if the traveler presents as female, and the agent presses the "female" button, yet the traveler has a penis, that will trigger a pat-down and could cause discomfort and alarm to the traveler.

Travelers can also request a pat-down (even in a private room) instead of going through the scanner. Pat-downs are conducted by someone of the same gender as the traveler presents themself.

These policies concern trans travelers for a few reasons: 1) the scanner assigns traditional anatomical characteristics to each gender rather than reflecting the breadth of identity; and 2) the new "universal" pat-down policy is more aggressive and often humiliating and hostile. Don't be surprised if your trans clients and employees have concerns about TSA when traveling and if you are in the  travel industry, be prepared to answer these questions.

The Singular "They" and Why it Matters

You may have heard that the use of the word "they" as a singular word (to describe one person as opposed to a group of people) is increasingly common. Many transgender folks, particularly those who identify as gender non-binary (or genderfluid or genderqueer) use this term instead of she/her or he/him. This is something many companies are paying attention to. In fact, a few years ago, Facebook changed their settings to allow users to designate their pronoun - including "they" as one of the three options.

I realize this is distressing for those of us who are grammar nerds (present company included), but back in 2015, the American Dialect Society named the singular "they" as Word of the Year. If you struggle with considering "they" as a singular term, remember that someone who is non-binary has elements of BOTH male and female - essentially more than one gender. If you think of "they" in this context, it makes sense.


Ashley Wylde does a great job of explaining this in their YouTube video below (see how we just used the singular they?!)

As Ashley explains, it's completely appropriate to use "they" when talking about someone whose gender is unclear. For example, if such a customer has a question that your associate can't answer, your associate may call over a supervisor and say, "Can you help me with this? I can't find their reservation." This is better than guessing someone's gender by saying, "Can you help me with this? I can't find her reservation" - then risk having guessed wrong and offending the customer. If even a well-meaning associate guesses wrong and offends the customer, this LGBT unconscious bias incident could put your brand's reputation at risk.

Why should this matter to companies with front line associates? Simply put, it's about respecting your customers', clients', guests' and patients' chosen gender expression. When 12% of those 18-34 identify under the transgender umbrella (GLAAD, 2017), it's critically important to be aware of addressing these customers appropriately.

Gender Non-Binary Visibility and Representation is Soaring

Earlier this week, we noticed new t-shirts for sale, and these tees perfectly illustrate a new best practice in customer service, one that goes against longstanding standards of service: greeting a customer/guest without using gendered terms (such as sir, ma'am, etc).

If one of your well-meaning associates greets a guest with "sir" and the guest doesn't identify as male, that guest has been misgendered. Misgendering is a huge problem and often causes your guests to feel misunderstood and not seen for who they truly are. It creates awkwardness for all parties and often leads to an over-correction which then makes your guests feel even more uncomfortable and misunderstood. And it happens ALL THE TIME, at every company or institution with front line workers, in every industry.

The simple solution is to train your team members to greet without "sir", "ma'am" or any other gendered term. A simple greeting such as, "Good afternoon. How can I help you?" is polite and respectful. 

This societal shift towards acceptance of the fluidity of gender is accelerating. Many companies such as Spotify and Tinder are paying attention. 

Spotify third gender.png
tinder non-binary.png

And, in the entertainment industry, the Showtime hit, Billions became the first series to feature a non-binary character played by the non-binary actor, Asia Kate Dillon. When submitting their work in the show to the Emmys for consideration, Asia asked which category to submit to, and the Emmys told them to submit under either "actor" or "actress" category. Since "actor" originated as a non-gendered term, they chose to submit for Best Supporting Actor. Note the use of the singular "they" in this paragraph, which is Asia Kate's preferred pronoun.

How is your company preparing to adapt to society's expansion and increasing acceptance of gender identity?

Gender Neutral Titles and Why They Matter

Earlier this year, HSBC Bank made headlines by creating a policy to allow their customers to choose from a new list of honorifics when establishing or managing accounts. What are honorifics?  According to the Oxford Dictionary, an honorific is a title or word implying or expressing respect.

For example, terms like Mr., Mrs., Miss., and Ms. are all honorifics - and traditionally, as in our examples, many honorifics are gendered. When more customers are identifying somewhere under the transgender umbrella, these gendered honorifics become problematic. For example, if a new gender non-binary customer is filling out an application to open a bank account or credit card, and their only honorific/title options are traditionally gendered terms, they may feel alienated, frustrated or even leave.

HSBC doesn't want to take that risk. They now allow customers (and staff) to identify as non-binary on forms and include the following gender-neutral honorific options:

Ind (abbreviation of individual)
Mx (pronounced “mix” or “mux”)
Misc (for miscellaneous)
Mre (for mystery)
Msr (a mix of miss/sir)
Pr (prounced “per”, for person)
Sai (pronounced “sigh”)
Ser (pronounced “sair”).

Mx. is generally the most preferred honorific option by those who are non-binary.

This incredibly progressive move is a great model for other banks and any business which collects customer information (including health care facilities, airlines and others). What steps is your company taking to create inclusive honorifics?

Introducing Your Future Customers, Clients and Guests

The LGBTQIA alphabet soup is overwhelming to many, and lots of people consider the acronym and related terms "politically correct." The reality, however, is that young people (and not just young Americans) are increasingly identifying as queer. In fact, 20% of those 18-34 now identify as LGBTQ (GLAAD, 2017), with 12% identifying as transgender. Paying attention to these folks should matter to any company with front line workers who provide customer service in any capacity.

The video below is excerpted from a wonderful piece created by the Chronicle of Higher Education and showcases numerous college students who talk about their identity and related concerns. These folks and others like them are your future customers, clients, guests and patients. Companies and institutions who fail to consider the identity of these folks in their policies and customer service practices will lose business (and potentially be at risk for a PR nightmare or lawsuit).

What is your company doing to ensure that your workers understand the increasingly diverse ways your guests identify?

Bernadette Smithnon-binary, LGBTQ