Traveling can be complicated for anyone who doesn’t fall into society’s rigid norms. LGBTQ+ and trans people face discrimination right from the security gate, and don’t even get me started on what disabled folx go through to catch a flight. It appears that Virgin Atlantic is one of the airlines trying to address these issues.
Last week, Virgin announced that it was changing its uniform and name badge policies for employees. Now other airlines are considering making their own changes. Call me an optimist, but I think these seemingly small shifts could revolutionize the way we get to experience travel.
Back in April, Virgin gave us a sneak peek into how it was evolving when it released a commercial featuring disabled travelers, gender-nonconforming passengers, and, well, folx who just presented as gay. Many applauded Virgin for its inclusion then, and now the airline has taken it a step further with a new gender-flexible uniform policy unveiled in an announcement featuring RuPaul’s Drag Race star Michelle Visage.
The airline’s new policy will permit employees to choose the uniform — designed by Vivienne Westwood, no less — that they feel best represents their gender. The company will also offer non-obligatory pronoun badges to airline staff and passengers, let employees show their tattoos, and make makeup optional for all genders. This is a massive upgrade to the archaic and discriminatory uniform policies of many airlines.
“People feel empowered when they are wearing what best represents them, and this gender identity policy allows people to embrace who they are and bring their full selves to work,” Visage said in a statement about the uniform change.
But it’s not just Virgin employees who will benefit. The employees of other, less progressive airlines who are hoping for change will see these chic getups, too. Hell, if the media explosion surrounding the uniforms continues, everyone who reads the news is going to see this red-hot Westwood situation. This level of representation really matters, particularly when schools and companies around the globe are grappling with how to create more gender-affirming dress code policies.
A simple they/them pin may seem like no big deal to the cis-het crowd, but as a trans nonbinary person who regularly faces a sea of “ma’am” when I travel, I’m here to tell you that it’s huge. It is every kind of exhausting to deal with pronoun-challenged people when I’m just trying to make my gate. And the idea of seeing more people like me at the airport — people who aren’t trying to prove their bizarre allegiance to the gender binary — actually makes me want to go to the airport. Let’s be honest, who wants to go to an airport?
Virgin’s announcement has not come without controversy. Of course, there are haters calling for boycotts of the company — that’s to be expected. But some former Virgin Atlantic employees aren’t thrilled, either. Jaianni Russo, a nonbinary person in Nottingham, U.K., alleged on Facebook that they were erased from the uniform campaign that they say was originally their idea. Neither Russo nor Virgin Atlantic have publicly commented, but honestly, it looks more like an unfortunate HR situation than a corporate conspiracy to dehumanize Russo to me.
I, for one, am ready to be optimistic about the potential these kinds of changes have for the future. “I’m proud to be involved in this new announcement from Virgin Atlantic,” Visage wrote on Instagram. “Let’s change the world — one pressed, fabulous uniform at a time! The world is our runway!”
Well, at least the airport is.