An Arizona mother recently tried to purchase a Delta airline ticket for her adult nonbinary child only to be told they would have to fly as either male or female. This is despite the fact that their state-issued ID and birth certificate both have the gender marker X on them. Like Michigan, Arizona allows a gender marker X for those who identify as neither male nor female. Likewise, TSA policy is to accept the gender marker X on travel documents.
“TSA requires that the boarding pass reservation matches your state-issued ID,” Dawn Henry, the mother, said in a series of tweets. “TSA accepts X as a gender marker on state IDs. The problem isn’t with TSA. The problem is airlines, like @Delta and @AlaskaAir. … @Delta is discriminating against #nonbinary individuals and not allowing them to fly despite legal ID issued by states that allow X on birth certificates and state-issued IDs.”
For their part, Delta issued a statement to USA Today saying they were “a proud, long-time supporter of the LGBTQ+ community and we understand that being seen and acknowledged is part of having an equitable travel experience.”
The airline said they have begun the process of updating their booking systems to accept a gender marker X. However, the statement said the airline does not anticipate having the necessary changes in place until the fourth quarter of 2022. What’s more, it’s not the first time they’ve made that promise.
Delta joined Alaska Air, American, JetBlue, Southwest and United in announcing in February 2019 that they were in the process of adding the gender marker X option. However, nearly three years later, it still has not been completed. At that time, the airlines promised NBC News that the changes would be made “in the next several weeks.” Currently, American and United accept the gender marker X. Alaska Air, Jet Blue and Southwest still do not.
The reason for the delay? Delta blames COVID-19.
“While we quickly shifted focus due to COVID in early 2020 to helping customers navigate the rapidly changing environment and government regulations, we are back on track to be able to offer a nonbinary gender option in our booking systems in 2022,” the Delta statement read.
“To say this situation as reported is unfortunate would be an understatement,” Brayden Misiolek, founder and executive director of Transcend the Binary, told Pride Source. “It’s the kind of thing that leads to increased anxiety for folks in the trans and nonbinary community who have taken the steps, or are planning to, live their life authentically.”
Roz Keith, founder and executive director of Stand with Trans, had some harsh words for Delta. “It is ridiculous,” she told Pride Source. “Shame on Delta. If the TSA requires ID and boarding pass to match, then the airlines need to expedite the process of updating their software. This is not a new topic and Delta, et al, should have been working on this already to be in compliance with the TSA.”
Keith said the problem the policy presents continues to grow. “This lack of planning affects thousands of travelers who identify as nonbinary,” she said. “As states are changing their policies to reflect an X marker, this number will only increase.”
At the end of last year, Michigan updated state IDs with a gender marker X option, joining 20 other states and the District of Columbia in offering a gender marker X on state-issued IDs. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced the change at a November press conference at Affirmations LGBTQ+ community center in Ferndale.
“I am proud to offer state identification that bolsters the safety and accurately reflects the identity of more Michigan residents,” said Benson at the press conference. “For years we have been working with the LGBTQIA+ community and upgrading our own technology to make this possible in order to ensure that government works for all people of Michigan.”
And that’s all that the non-binary community wants, Misiolek said, adding, “We are simply humans who want to go about our daily life just like anyone else. Our community can and does face barriers at every turn that we are forced to mitigate or overcome.”
Still, Misiolek said he is hopeful for the future.
“Fortunately, these issues can also be rectified by willing parties, and that is what we hope will happen as we increase awareness about our community, our struggles, and our strengths. That is exactly why Transcend and other organizations do the work we do — because we believe in our community and our potential to create change.”
Henry told NBC News that her work will not be done until all airlines have changed their policy to offer a nonbinary option.
“I am committed to fixing this, not just for my child, but for everyone who holds a legal ID with an X gender marker,” she said. “My hope is that pressure on the airlines — not just Delta, but the others that have not updated their systems — will get this done.”
Henry said she’s glad the airlines are finally promising to follow through on a commitment made “almost three years ago,” but “a promise is not enough.”
“I will not stop pursuing this until every U.S. airline with a discriminatory reservation system has made the long-overdue changes,” she said.