At Virgin, we believe that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, should have the right to be who they are, wherever they are. It’s important to our people, their families, our business partners and customers.
Virgin has been an ally of the LGBT+ community since we started the brand. In June, I was in New York celebrating World Pride with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays, who made history with the world’s first ever Pride flight, and Virgin Voyages, who launched our LGBTQ+ Charter voyage. It made me reflect on everything we’ve done over the years to support the LGBT+ community and how the Virgin brand and family wouldn’t be what it is today without them.
One thing we’ve learnt is that standing up for LGBT+ rights involves moving with the times and constantly adjusting what we say and do to make sure we’re acting as inclusively as possible.
Recently, that has meant getting up to speed with how we understand gender diversity. Celebrating gender diversity means ensuring that a person’s own sense of self and personal experience of gender is welcome at Virgin.
Gender diversity includes trans people – those who may feel that the sex or gender they were assigned at birth does not match the sex or gender they identify with, and non-binary people who don’t feel that their gender identity fits naturally into the binary of being either “male” or “female”.
There are a growing number of people who identify themselves as non-binary. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that of people born after 1996, over a third know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns like “they” or “them”. In fact, Merriam-Webster, the oldest dictionary publisher in America, recently added the use of "they" as a singular, nonbinary pronoun to their dictionary.
The singer Sam Smith, who recently came out as non-binary, posted on Instagram saying they would like people to use “they” or “them” when referring to them. Underneath the post, Sam mentioned several activists who have helped them on their journey, including Munroe Bergdorf, Laverne Cox and the Stonewall charity.
At Virgin Management we’ve chosen to add an optional field for our employees to write the pronouns they best identify with in their email signatures.
After speaking to LGBT+ charities Switchboard - LGBT+ Helpline and Gendered Intelligence, as well as to trans and non-binary people themselves, we learned how important asking someone’s pronouns can be.
Getting someone’s pronoun right can feel like a very small gesture, but it can mean the world. As one non-binary person told Gendered Intelligence: “The single most important thing [an organisation] could do is ask me what my pronoun is.”
It doesn’t stop there. Virgin has also been thinking about being more trans aware through our use of gender-neutral language and how we recognise gender diversity in our application forms and questionnaires.
Understanding gender identity can seem complicated, but it can be made simple. After all, if you’re not sure how to address someone, then just ask. They’ll understand if you don’t get it right to begin with.
There’s still a long way to go before the LGBT+ community receives the respect and support it deserves, and this is just another small part of our ongoing journey here at Virgin. I’m proud to be an active ally and hope you will be too.
To learn more about gender identity and what you can do to make a difference, take a read here.