Why Event Organizers Need to Be Aware of Transgender Attendees’ Event Journey

In a PCMA EduCon panel moderated by Glenn Stress, vice president of global B2B events and programs for Marriott International, a gender-diverse panel discussed barriers that members of the LGBTQ+ community face when traveling to events.

Author: Casey Gale       

group of people on stage in panel with educon 2023 sign behind them

Glenn Stress (from left), Ashley T. Brundage, Chase Brunson, Larry Sieg, president and CEO of Atlantic City, and Doug Bennett, executive vice president of Go To Louisville, took part in a panel discussing LGBTQ+ issues from both a meeting planner and destination perspective.

Creating an inclusive meeting experience for LGBTQ+ attendees is critical, particularly because transgender attendees often have to contend with discrimination at different points in their travels to an event that shape their experience before even stepping foot in the host venue. During the “Belonging, Safety, & Inclusion: Making Your Events Welcoming for the LGBTQ+ Community” panel at EduCon 2023 in Montréal, panelists Chase Brunson, internal events manager at AffiniPay, and Ashley T. Brundage, president and CEO of leadership training organization Empowering Differences, discussed barriers that they as transgender individuals and others in the community face when traveling — a key part of the event journey that cisgender individuals (people whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth) never even think about.

“Our experiences really pale when it comes to people who are transgender, and it’s really important to understand what they are going through and why a lot of people really are uncomfortable [traveling] to events, because of the extra burden that’s placed on them,” said Glenn Stress, who moderated the panel and serves as vice president of global B2B events and programs for Marriott International.

The airport can be a particular pain point for transgender individuals, for several reasons. For example, said Brunson, the full-body passenger scanners found at security checkpoints can show discrepancies between how one identifies on their passport versus how their body presents in a scan. “The TSA agent will make an assumption about who you are — they’re choosing male or female on a screen. [The scan] is looking at your upper area and your lower area. And if your gender identity doesn’t match what they have chosen, it can flag certain things and they can pull you aside. …That’s something that a lot of trans folks have a lot of issues with, especially if they are nonbinary or maybe they’re not super far into their transition,” he said, noting that this experience “is a fear of mine every single time I go to an airport, that I’m going to get pulled aside or flagged.”

Many transgender individuals use prosthetics that make them feel more comfortable in their identity, but Brunson said he discourages them from wearing them to the airport for fear they will raise security issues. “It’s a matter of, do I want to deal with this or do I not want to deal with this?” he said.

“I have TSA Pre-Check, Global Entry, and all these things to make it easier for me, so that way I face, potentially, less discrimination getting anywhere,” added Brundage. “Think about the extra layers that someone might have to go through, just to get discriminated against, to get your event.” Brundage noted that these are elements of being an attendee that the organizer has no control over — how a TSA agent might treat someone, or how a taxi driver might use the wrong pronoun. “The things that are in your control, you have to go out of your way to be so much more inclusive to be thinking about how that person, by the time they finally reached you, they could’ve been discriminated against or misgendered half a dozen times.”

Casey Gale is managing editor of Convene.

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