The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has recently updated its policies regarding transgender passengers, yet travelers continue to voice concerns—especially given a shift toward a more aggressive and uniform policy on pat-downs at airport checkpoints.
While TSA policies and procedures can be invasive of everyone's privacy, they are of particular concern to transgender individuals because of their ability to "out" people in unsafe ways, potentially leading to harassment and discrimination.
In September 2015, Shadi Petosky complained on Twitter about being held at an airport security checkpoint at Orlando International Airport for 40 minutes—missing her flight—because of an "anomaly" cited when she passed through one of TSA's fully-body scanners.
The underlying reason for such incidents stems from the identification information required by TSA. When making an airline reservation, TSA requires travelers to provide their name, gender and date of birth. The information provided for the reservation must match the government-issued photo ID travelers provide when passing through security.
Full-body scanners scan the contours of a human body and displays an outline of a generic person, based on the gender of a passenger. The Automatic Target Recognition (ATR) software analyzes the scan image of a body for "anomalies" or "alarms" that TSA agents need to look at more closely. ATR software sometimes registers body contours not typical for a person's gender as anomalies.
The National Center for Transgender Equality notes that, most of the time, transgender individuals are able to proceed through TSA without incident. The organization offers a guide, however, to answer common questions and outlines steps individuals can take to prevent and respond to problems at the airport.
Packing and Preparing for Air Travel
Transgender travelers have the right to wear what they wish, but screening policies remain the same for clothing and accessories.
Medical equipment and prosthetics will be allowed through the checkpoint after completing the screening process. Any medication and supplies may result in extra screening, but all travelers may ask TSA officials for private screening if bags need to be opened.
ID and Gender Presentation
TSA requires travelers provide their name, gender and date of birth when making an airline reservation. The information should match the government-issued ID the traveler provides at the airport.
The Secure Flight program checks the information against government watch lists, and gender information is used to eliminate false matches with the same or similar names—not to evaluate a person's gender.
If travelers have different names or genders listed on different IDs, they can choose which to provide—as long as the information matches the reservation.
It does not matter if a traveler's current gender presentation matches the gender market on their ID, or their presentation on their ID photos. TSA officers should not comment on the difference.
Airport Body Scanners
Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scan the contours of the human body to look for things under a person's clothing that might be dangerous items.
Travelers may opt out of AIT scans at any time, but are then required to undergo a thorough pat-down.
At checkpoints using body scanners, pat-downs are the only alternative to being scanned. Pat-downs may also be required if an anomaly is identified by the machine, if a traveler's clothing is loose, or on a random basis.
If necessary, children 12 and under should receive a modified, less-intrusive pat-down under the observation and direction of their parents.
Pat-downs must be performed by a TSA officer of the same gender as the traveler. This is based on a traveler's gender presentation. The gender listed on identification documents and boarding passes should not matter, and travelers should not be subjected to personal questions about gender.
If TSA officers are unsure who should pat a traveler down, they should ask the traveler discreetly and respectfully.
For more information, and to download a full guide, visit transequality.org.
Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for Groups Today.