I have a hard time getting excised over ‘culture war’ sorts of issues. I get the stakes involved in bathroom bills and transgendered participation in high school sports, but those aren’t my priorities. They’re how Republicans win elections in the short-term, and how they lose out over time – the way that then-Governor Pete Wilson largely destroyed the Republican Party of California hitching his career to Proposition 187 (“Save Our State” initiative).
But culture issues aren’t going away, they’re only expanding, this time to Alaska Airlines which is being threatened with a suit by the ACLU for making flight attendants choose between a male or female uniform.
While the TSA began requiring passengers to select a gender as part of their security identification system, passengers can now choose ‘unspecified’ or ‘undisclosed’ just as many states now offer an “X” for gender on their drivers licenses. But flight attendants can’t choose X when selecting a uniform to wear.
Although Alaska recognizes and accommodates transgender workers, its rules ignore the rights and needs of employees who don’t see themselves as either male or female or are gender fluid.
…The ACLU is representing Justin Wetherell, an Alaska Airlines flight attendant and instructor who identifies as non-binary and feels trapped by Alaska’s current uniform policies.
…“I am willing to follow all of the elements of the uniform policy for professional attire, as I do when I work as an instructor, but I don’t want to be forced into a binary uniform that excludes me and leads to me being misgendered at work.”
The flight attendant wants to pick some pieces of the male uniform and some from the female uniform, but that’s not consistent with the airline’s branding and image standards. The ACLU further complains that in addition to discriminating against non-binary flight attendants, the uniform standards “also harms any flight attendant who does not fit Alaska Airlines’ preferred image of either male or female.”
When Delta rolled out its famous ‘red dress’ for female flight attendants as an option (before the current ‘passport purple’) unions complained that the ‘sexy’ red dress wasn’t offered in plus-sizes, and pilots evaluated female Delta flight attendant figures based on whether or not they were “RDQ” or ‘Red Dress Qualified’). The archetype here is the flight attendant made famous by the airline’s safety video, Deltalina.
In the “Love Airlines” case Southwest claimed the right to hire only attractive young women as flight attendants in order to appeal to what was then mostly male business travelers. A federal court determined that the essence of the Southwest Airlines business was transportation not sexual allurement, so their employment policy was illegal sex discrimination. (On the other hand a business that was explicitly sexual in nature could discriminate in this way.)
Since flight attendants are there ‘primarily for your safety’ I’m not sure how much image matters anymore at U.S. airlines. On the other hand, discrimination rules aren’t as well developed in most jurisdictions when it comes to addressing non-binary issues. I’ll defer to those who know the relevant law to evaluate the merits of the ACLU claim but as a policy matter I wouldn’t push the button for it.
Fortunately this may be less of a political issue and left largely to the legal arena because Alaska Airlines is headquartered in Washington State, though it could still wind up on Tucker Carlson Tonight.