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TSA Adds Insult to Injury for Trans Flyers

17 Aug

I don’t know a single person who enjoys going through security at an airport. From the annoyance of having to take off your shoes and belt to now having to remove everything in your pockets for the new full-body scans. I spent much of the start of this year on crutches and with a cast on my foot after a nasty spill on the ice. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) frequently treated me like I was hiding anthrax in my walking boot. I had to go through the “advanced” pat downs on several occasions and was even forced to remove the cast and hop around while it went through the metal detector.

Compared to what one part of our community has to go through in airports, that was child’s play. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality‘s (NCTE) Report on Discrimination, almost one third of transgender people have experienced disrespect or discrimination in airports or with TSA agents. Now TSA is trying it’s best to make it worse.

A pilot program at Boston’s Logan airport has TSA agents enacting “chat-downs,” to look for signs of nervousness or concealment, and any other suspicious behavior. “We are looking for behaviors that are out of the norm,” the TSA’s local security director told National Public Radio.

Now imagine you are a transgender person spending a good percentage of your life trying to “pass” as one gender or the other so that people will see you properly as the gender you identify as. Now imagine not only having to go through a full-body image scanner where perhaps a non-sympathetic TSA agent decides they need to pull you aside for a “chat-down.” Those signs of nervousness and concealment you’re showing have nothing to do with terrorism, but they will not only ruin your day, but possibly stop you from getting on your flight.

Some trans people have either not fully transitioned or don’t “pass” very well as their identified gender. Add to that the fact that some have not legally changed names yet on passports or travel documents. And now mix-in the fact that they face horrific discrimination not only in airports, but in employment, housing, and every other corner where one can possibly face discrimination, and you have a recipe for a “nervous flyer.”

As a person with several family members already on the terrorist watch list (due only to their Lebanese descent and the color of their skin), I’ve heard firsthand just how de-humanizing and probing the TSA can be. My then-80 year old wheelchair-bound uncle was violently forced out of his wheelchair and searched shortly after the 9/11 attacks only because of his last name. To this day, many of my cousins remain on the watch list.

A commenter on NCTE’s blog warning about this new pilot program said:

“…My partner, who is also ftm [female to male], has started taking hormones and passes quite well. However, he has not had his legal name change yet and his birth name is obviously feminine, therefore always drawing intense scrutiny from the TSA people who check IDs/boarding passes, and has, on occasion, been questioned to the point of extreme embarrassment and having the line held up behind him. My partner also has a stutter (has had it since childhood), especially in situations where he feels uncomfortable, nervous, or scared. So the possibility of him being called out by the TSA for one of these “chats” could be greatly intensified already due to the name not matching his appearance issue, plus if he stutters during this chat, what till the TSA accuse him of?…”

NCTE ends their blog post with the following statement which we also feel is necessary to share:

NCTE encourages transgender travelers who experience problems with airport security screening to file complaints with TSA’s Office of Civil Rights and Liberties and the Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. To aid in our advocacy efforts, please share copies of your complaints with NCTE.