Transgender civil rights issues are once again in the national spotlight after Shadi Petosky, a trans woman, tweeted about the abuse she went through at an airport security checkpoint. But what makes the situation even worse is it could have been avoided if the TSA listened to trans advocacy groups, which have warned about the agency's handling of trans travelers for years.
I am being held by the TSA in Orlando because of an "anomaly" (my penis)— Shadi Petosky (@shadipetosky) September 21, 2015
TSA agent Bramlet told me to get back in the machine as a man or it was going to be a problem.— Shadi Petosky (@shadipetosky) September 21, 2015
I asked TSA agent Bramlet if he had any training in trans issues. He said "I know what I am doing"— Shadi Petosky (@shadipetosky) September 21, 2015
The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), for example, has long maintained a guide to airport security, which covers everything from what ID someone will need to dealing with body scanners and pat-downs. The guide is specifically geared for trans travelers and what they should plan for, but reading through the questions and answers gives a clear idea that trans people face much bigger — and often unfair — hurdles because of their identities.
The guide warns, for instance, "If you choose a pat-down to avoid the AIT machines or if the TSA agents require one for another reason, the pat-down must be performed by an officer of the same gender as the traveler. This is based on your gender presentation. … If TSA officers are unsure who should pat you down, they should ask you discreetly and respectfully." (That last part that did not seem to happen in Petosky's case.)
In a 2015 report, NCTE even called out specific issues that echo Petosky's horrible experience with the TSA:
[TSA] techniques—which often include intrusive body searches of passengers—present especially serious concerns for transgender people, who can be outed against their will only to face bias and harassment. …
NCTE continues to hear troubling stories from transgender travelers about their treatment by TSA, as well as by officials at U.S. border crossings. While NCTE has long worked with TSA to promote better staff training, respond to individual complaints, and educate the trans traveling public, the agency's lack of transparency and persistent use of invasive and unproven security procedures are a continuing cause for concern.
The report recommends better protocol and training for TSA officials, including not stopping travelers for personal characteristics and "transgender competence in its basic training curriculum for airport security screeners and other Transportation Security Officers." Both of those speak to Petosky's situation: She was reportedly stopped because of a personal characteristic (her body) and asked demeaning questions that were insensitive to trans people and her gender identity.
The TSA said it looked into Petosky's situation, and deemed proper protocols were followed. But, clearly, something went wrong — and NCTE's recommendations could help prevent a similar situation in the future.