The GSBA Blog

Traveling while Transgender

by Gunner Scott, Director of Programs, Pride Foundation
| Oct 15, 2015
Gunner Betty
I love to travel. I have been able to visit 45 states and four European countries, and I now have the opportunity to travel across the Northwest for my job at the Pride Foundation.

However, as a transgender traveler, I also encounter discrimination—especially with TSA. On multiple occasions since the Automated Target Recognition (ATR) body scanners were installed, TSA agents have demanded that I remove my dress shirt and expose my skin or else be denied access to my flight, a request that is against their own policies.

Discrimination in travel happens too often. The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 53% of transgender respondents were verbally harassed in places like hotels, restaurants, buses, airports and government agencies; 15% were denied service and 3% were physically assaulted. Those percentages significantly increase for transgender travelers that are disabled and/or of color.

While work is being done to educate agencies like TSA, for the time being it may take transgender travelers a little more planning to have the best experience possible. For example, the standards for changing your name or gender marker on your US passport have become much more accessible. If you not able to update your state ID, using your passport might be easier.

TSA has a specific transgender traveler webpage explaining their policies and your rights. I would also recommend applying for TSA Pre-Check status. There is a fee, but it expedites screening and often allows you to go through metal detectors instead of the ATR scanners. If you should encounter discrimination, stay calm, ask to speak with a supervisor, and remember to file a civil rights complaint with TSA. 

While not all transgender people identify with the LGB community, in general, hotels and tours that advertise to or are LGBTQ businesses are more likely to have nondiscrimination policies. Websites and organizations like GSBA, Tagapproved and Purple Roofs are great places to start.

There are guides and vacation packages for lesbian and gay travelers, but few for transgender travelers. This is slowly changing; recently the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association began outreach to transgender-owned travel businesses to help promote them. The “World’s First Transgender Oceanic Cruise,” hosted by Transgender Vacations and Royal Caribbean, as well as the Kalani resort on Hawaii’s Big Island both specifically welcome transgender travelers with dedicated vacation packages.

As Maya Angelou once said, “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” I hope you find many friends on your next travel adventure!


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