Although the travel universe has become more welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, transgender and nonbinary travelers still face discrimination, harassment, and even violence while traveling. For advice about how to avoid having vacations ruined by ignorant or intentionally belligerent gatekeepers, we turned to Olivia Hunt, senior policy counsel for the National Center for Transgender Equality, and John Tanzella, president of IGLTA, the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association.
Both organizations offer broader advice for trans travelers (IGLTA’s Travel Tips for Transgender, Genderqueer, and Nonbinary Wanderlusters, and NCTE’s Know Your Rights: Airport Security) available on their respective websites (iglta.org and transequality.org).
In the wake of last year’s passage of anti-trans legislation in numerous states, trans travelers (and parents of trans kids) have concerns about traveling through or to those locations, while allies may wonder if they should boycott these destinations.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Tanzella says, “IGLTA doesn’t say ‘don’t go’ to our LGBTQ+ traveling community.” But, he adds, “We do always say to be informed on local culture and mindful of laws that can impact your safety, and this becomes even more significant for trans travelers or those that don’t fit binary gender expectations.”
In regards to those laws, Hunt clarifies, “The anti-trans bills that we’ve seen introduced or passed over the past year have almost entirely targeted trans people — particularly trans children — who are residents of those states. The laws themselves aren’t likely to impact most travelers…and don’t necessarily even mean that anti-trans sentiments are prevalent in that state.”
That’s particularly true when local jurisdictions support trans protections while state legislators remain hostile to gender diversity. While it is also possible for trans travelers to experience discrimination in locations where legal protections exist, it makes sense to research destinations before traveling.
“Forewarned is forearmed,” Hunt says. “There’s absolutely no substitute for being prepared. One of the most helpful things for most trans travelers, and particularly for those traveling by air, is to have their identity documents and records in order before they travel. For most trans people, that means having the name and/or gender marker on their driver’s license or state ID, passport, and any credit cards or other documents they intend to use updated. In addition, any prescription medications (hormone replacement therapy or otherwise) should be carried in the original bottle or other packaging with a prescription label matching the name on their ID.”
Getting through security checkpoints can be a chore for even the most seasoned cisgender and able-bodied traveler, but trans travelers face potential interrogation and physical screenings simply because their gender expression or bodies may not fit expectations. Hunt advises, “Trans people who plan to travel by air should also consider enrolling in TSA PreCheck or TSA Global Entry, which typically allows travelers to bypass the full-body AIT scanners at an airport security checkpoint.”
She says those who are concerned about going through the TSA checkpoint can contact the TSA Cares helpline (855-787-2227) in advance “to discuss arrangements for security screening at the airports they’ll be traveling out of. In particular, they may be able to arrange for a passenger support employee to assist with any problems they have in screening, or obtain the contact information for the TSA management for that airport or region if they have trouble during their screening.”
In addition, Hunt says, it’s good to plan in extra time if possible because “no trans person wants to have to answer intrusive questions about their identity documents, their bodies, or their medications, but missing your flight because of the unnecessary delays can turn a disappointing travel experience into a terrible one.”
Tanzella adds, “A safety in numbers approach is helpful for anyone feeling uncertain about a place, i.e., sticking to well-populated areas, or traveling with groups of family and friends or an LGBTQ+ travel group. Bathrooms are always a minefield for transgender travelers, so map out access to single-stall options in advance, and if you’re road tripping, look for chain restaurants rather than truck stops.”
Ultimately, Hunt says, “The message that NCTE hears from travelers over and over again is that their priority is getting from their homes to their destinations without having to discuss their private parts, without having them touched by government officials, and without being harassed by fellow travelers or other people that they encounter.”
That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
This article originally ran in the Winter 2022 issue of Out Traveler, which is available on the newsstand now. It was initially titled Traveling While Trans, and was part of our special feature on outsider travelers.