TSA Urged to Reform Screening Procedures for Trans Passengers

Thirty-two members of Congress on Thursday urged the Transportation Security Administration to reform the way it screens transgender passengers.

U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) and others, including Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), in their letter to TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger urge the agency to “complete a thorough review of its current procedures,” including the use of full-body scanners based on whether officers conclude a passenger is male or female.

The lawmakers also call upon TSA to publish “detailed guidelines” on its website about “security screening expectations” to ensure “transgender passengers are fully informed about” them.

They urge the agency to make its helpline and other resources more prominent on its website to ensure “those with additional questions have a clear and accessible way to gather information on remaining concerns.” The lawmakers also call upon TSA to ensure all personnel “are adequately trained to serve the transgender community.”

“We ask that such trainings should be required for all TSOs that work with the public, that they be held live and in-person (as opposed to the simple distribution of written materials) and that these trainings specifically cover the particular sensitivities and vulnerabilities of transgender travelers,” reads the letter.

The lawmakers wrote Neffenger in response to Shadi Petosky’s allegations that TSA officers detained her at Orlando International Airport in Florida on Sept. 21 due to a “misunderstanding about her gender identity as a trans woman.”

“Unfortunately, Ms. Petosky’s experience is just the latest of a string of reports from travelers across the country,” reads their letter. “In the days since Ms. Petosky’s story became public, we have heard from numerous members of the transgender community describing harassing and humiliating experiences while going through airport security. While we understand the importance of vigilant airport security, we cannot countenance a security protocol that subjects transgender travelers to this level of indignity.”

The TSA has launched an investigation into Petosky’s allegations.

“Ensuring that all travelers are treated with dignity and respect is a top priority for the Transportation Security Administration,” TSA spokesperson Mike England told the Washington Blade on Friday in a statement. “That some transgendered travelers feel that they’re receiving improper treatment by TSA personnel is of great concern to us. We will work with Congress to address the concerns raised in their letter and continue our dialogue with the transgender community about the screening process.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the Blade that her organization shares “the deep concerns expressed in this letter.”

“Airport security today is invasive and questionably effective — and anyone who appears to be different is bound to bear the brunt of this problem,” she said.

Keisling added Petosky’s experience “appears to be a common one,” noting TSA officers have described the bodies of National Center for Transgender Equality staffers as “anomalies.”

“While changing officer procedures and training are important, it’s clear that TSA’s technology and screening methods themselves are the problem,” said Keisling. “Body scanners and pat downs should not be first line of screening. Where scanners are used, they should be able to tell the difference between a bomb and a body part.”

The National Center for Transgender Equality is among the organizations that filed a federal lawsuit against TSA in July over regulations governing the use of body-scanners and pat-downs.

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