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Virgin Atlantic drops gendered uniforms, adds preferred pronoun pins

The airline’s new gender identity policy allows flight attendants, pilots and ground workers to dress however they identify

Tyreece Nye, a nonbinary performer and activist, is shown in a Virgin Atlantic uniform as part of the rollout of the airline's new gender identity policy. (Photos by Virgin Atlantic)

Virgin Atlantic flight attendants, pilots and workers on the ground no longer have to choose gendered uniform options, the British airline announced Wednesday.

Starting immediately, employees will be able to “wear the clothing that expresses how they identify or present themselves.” The airline also started offering optional pronoun badges for staff members and customers, and updated its ticketing system to better accommodate people who have selected gender-neutral options on their passports.

“At Virgin Atlantic, we believe that everyone can take on the world, no matter who they are,” Juha Jarvinen, the airline’s chief commercial officer, said in a statement. “That’s why it’s so important that we enable our people to embrace their individuality and be their true selves at work. It is for that reason that we want to allow our people to wear the uniform that best suits them and how they identify and ensure our customers are addressed by their preferred pronouns.”

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Virgin announced the updated gender identity policy with videos that featured LGBTQ activists and supporters — including “RuPaul’s Drag Race” judge Michelle Visage — as well as employees who identify as members of the community.

The carrier said that as part of its “Be Yourself” program, it has already made makeup optional, given women the option to wear flat shoes and allowed crew members and other front-line workers to have visible tattoos. Women were already permitted to wear pants.

“‘Be Yourself’ campaign means absolutely everything to me: I get to be myself, a nonbinary person,” cabin crew member Jamie Forsstrom said in a video. “I have the choice of a uniform, which is a massively big thing.”

Virgin said it would also mandate inclusivity training across the airline and launch “inclusivity learning initiatives” for hotels and other partners in destinations including the Caribbean “to ensure all our customers feel welcome despite barriers to LGBTQ+ equality.”

A handful of airlines have announced they are loosening gender stereotypes in dress codes or launching without gendered uniforms.

Icelandic budget airline Play says its uniforms are not gender-specific, there are no instructions about makeup, tattoos or nail polish, and comfortable sneakers for cabin crew members are the norm. Canada’s WestJet said it updated its uniform policy “to be unchained from gender norms” in 2017.

Alaska Airlines said in March it was developing gender-neutral uniform pieces for flight attendants, customer service agents and lounge employees. The carrier also said all employees could wear fingernail polish, makeup, two earrings in each ear and a stud nose piercing, and introduced pronoun pins for workers.

The announcement followed a complaint by a nonbinary employee that the airline was forcing flight attendants to conform to gendered dress and grooming standards by choosing either male or female uniforms.

According to Reuters, the Washington State Human Rights Commission said recently that there was reasonable cause to find that the airline violated state law by refusing to exempt the flight attendant from the policy.

“This is an important step on a continued journey to be more inclusive, and there’s more work ahead,” Alaska Airlines said in its statement in March. “We will continue to look at our policies, programs and practices to ensure we live our values and create a place where everyone feels they belong.”

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