I paused as I filled out a self-declaration vaccination form for an upcoming trip to The Netherlands. I was heading to Amsterdam, part fun, part work as I was meeting with Booking.com to chat about their Travel Proud program, a first of its kind for the LGBTQ+ community. I was taking along my 23-year-old non-binary kid, and I was getting our paperwork ready for the trip. We had already joked that their appearance had changed quite radically from the passport photo which stared up at us, as they had more fully embraced who they were, since that photo had been taken a couple of years prior.

When I came to the section of the form that asked for gender, as a cisgender woman, I filled in “F” for me. I was pleased to see that along with F and M, there was a third option, that of “Unspecified.”. Clearly there are steps being taken that are indicative of a better, bigger, picture of our world, and not just in The Netherlands.

As of June, 2019, Canadians can also identify on their passports that they are gender “X” (or, unspecified), but as my kid’s passport had been issued before that date, they had “F” as their gender marker on their passport. I thought about it, and reluctantly marked their gender as “F” on The Netherlands form. It didn’t feel right, but I felt it was probably important that this paperwork matched (between the Canadian passport and the self-declaration vaccination form), as we were to go through customs, especially, as I previously mentioned, the passport photo wasn’t necessarily representative of who they were presently.

It’s intricacies like this that non-cisgendered people have to think about every single day. My non-binary kid is constantly being called by the wrong pronoun, usually by accident and quickly corrected, but sadly sometimes deliberately.

It’s time to stop saying “But I can’t say them when it’s one person. It’s not grammatically correct.” Because in fact we have always used it in this way, without recognizing it. “Who left their umbrella here?” or “They should answer the phone when I call the office.” Is it easy to always remember to use the right pronouns? Nope. Ask my husband and I, who make the mistake, still, often, more than a year after our kid came out as non-binary. But we will retrain our brains as quickly as we can; of course we will. Gender pronouns and identification matter. Full stop.

October 11th is National Coming Out Day. I know, I know, there’s a day for everything and everyone, but this is an important one as it can be a target or milestone for those struggling with making the decision to come out and to be their authentic self. Don’t dismiss the day, and above all, be ready to listen to anyone in your family or circle of friends who decides to make this the day they have been waiting for to share with you who they are.

As it turns out, we didn’t have to show the self-declaration form at all when we landed in Amsterdam. But it put the conversation top of mind as I met with the Global Director of Communications, and one of the founders of the Travel Proud program, Kris Barber. Booking.com launched their unique Travel Proud program in August of 2021, and to date have almost 14,000 properties who have completed the Proud Hospitality training (75 minute video) and display the Travel Proud badge on their listing. The purpose of the program is to support the LGBTQ+ community as they travel, from details such as not automatically referring to guests as Mr. and Mrs., or assuming twin beds versus a shared bed when dealing with a same sex couple, or general misgendering through ongoing engagement and conversations. It is an invitation for guests to show up as their true selves, at any of these properties.

This past July, they announced a new partnership with COC Netherlands, one of the few LGBTQ+ organizations with special consultative status with the United Nations and the oldest, still existing organization of its kind in the world. Booking.com made a three-year commitment of €250k per year to support them in various projects to promote education, equal rights and social acceptance for LGBTQ+ people around the world, as well as in the Netherlands.

We all know the importance of supporting our LGBTQ+ family members and friends and knowing that they have the support of companies like Booking.com as they travel out into the world is reassuring and confirming for them, and the people that love them. We left Amsterdam, a notably LGBTQ+ friendly city, with confidence and hope that things are getting more positive, step by step.

And really, we should all aspire to not look like the picture in our passport. As Erma Bombeck said, “When you look like your passport photo, it’s time to go home.”

Opinions expressed in this post are my own. Accommodations in Amsterdam were provided by Booking.com. Information on the Travel Proud program can be found here.

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