Truth in plastic: What it means to go shopping with no explanation necessary

June 14, 2020 | By Amy Kover

Whenever Krys stood in a checkout line, he would break into a sweat. He dreaded the moment when the clerk noticed the name on Krys’ debit card was his “dead name” — the name he used before transitioning. Looking at him suspiciously, the clerk would ask for an explanation, forcing Krys to divulge personal details of his life. “After being on hormones and putting in the work to present how I identify, it’s really disheartening to have it all thrown out the window,” Krys says. More troubling, he never knew how strangers would react.

However, last December, Krys found something to help diffuse tense moments like these. He and his partner were applying for a loan at BMO Harris Bank in Appleton, Wisconsin, when branch manager, Greg DeMain, told them about True Name, a Mastercard feature for the bank’s debit and ATM card that enables cardholders to use their true first name on their cards without the requirement of a legal name change. After filling out some forms and a short wait time, Krys was the proud holder of a card with the True Name feature. “We were filled with joy that change is coming to our communities, and we're  one of the first to receive this notice,” he says. “It's an honor and a thrill to be a voice for my community.” 

Now Krys and other members of the transgender and non-binary community can further incorporate their real names into daily life. BMO Harris has extended the True Name feature beyond debit and ATM cards to its consumer credit cards and small business debit and credit cards.

The initiative was conceived in 2019 when Mastercard’s Anthony DeRojas was searching for a meaningful way to commemorate WorldPride and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. “We wanted go beyond being just logo in a sea of other Pride sponsors,” says DeRojas, director of consumer marketing, North America. “We wanted to do something that was impactful for the community.” 

“We wanted go beyond being just logo in a sea of other Pride sponsors. We wanted to do something that was impactful for the community.”
Anthony DeRojas

DeRojas and his team quickly discovered that nearly one-third of transgender and non-binary individuals reported negative experiences when their ID does not match their presentation, including being harassed, denied services or even physically attacked. Since many individuals do not legally change their names and genders — a notoriously arduous and expensive process that can be emotionally difficult — they face discrimination every time they go out for a meal or purchase groceries. It’s akin to experiencing a pins-and-needles pain with every payment. 

Luckily, addressing this particular pain point was relatively straightforward. Mastercard did not need to change any rules or policies since its network uses more reliable sources of verification than the cardholder’s name. Nor did DeRojas’s team struggle to drive interest on their idea. “When we launched this, it was a call to the industry that products should match who you are, and we got a lot of interest,” he says. In addition to BMO Harris, Superbia Credit Union is committed to launch in 2020, and DeRojas expects others to follow suit. 

In the meantime, Krys is also enthusiastically spreading the word. “I've told a lot of my friends and family about this opportunity, and we're excited to see it put in motion,” he says. And he will continue raising awareness on other fronts, whether he’s at work or a social gathering: “Life isn't as long as we think – we deserve to express and question how we do things without fear.”

Amy Kover, Contributor