Dems push TSA to reform transgender screening procedures

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Democrats in the House are pushing the Transportation Security Administration to change its procedures for screening transgender passengers after a woman said she was mistreated last month at Orlando International Airport. 

A group of 32 Democratic House members said they have “strong concerns” about the TSA’s treatment of transgender passengers after a woman, Shadi Petosky, complained on Twitter about being held at an airport security checkpoint for 40 minutes because of an “anomaly” that was cited when she passed through one of the TSA’s full-body X-ray machines 

“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,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Transportation Security Administration Chief Peter Neffenger.  

{mosads}”While we understand the importance of vigilant airport security, we cannot countenance a security protocol that subjects transgender travelers to this level of indignity,” they wrote. “To that end, we urge TSA to complete a thorough review of its current procedures and address any shortcomings that may, however unintentionally, subject transgender travelers to inequitable or improper treatment by security personnel.” 

Petosky live-tweeted as she was held at the Orlando airport security checkpoint, saying TSA officials targeted her because she was transgender. 

“I am being held by the TSA in Orlando because of an ‘anomaly’ (my penis),” she tweeted. 

“The TSA at the Orlando Airport told me I couldn’t take photos but this is denigrating,” Petosky continued. “I have missed my flight.” 

TSA officials have said that the agents who processed Petosky at the Orlando airport followed the agency’s rules.

“Our officers are trained to properly screen members of the transgender community,” the agency wrote in a Wednesday statement. “After examining closed circuit TV video and other available information, TSA has determined that the evidence shows our officers followed TSA’s strict guidelines.”

The lawmakers said TSA should update its procedures for handling transgender passengers to remove the possibility for a situation like Petosky’s. 

“As you know, TSOs must select a male or female button in order to configure a scanner to a gender-specific setting prior to screening,” the lawmakers wrote to Neffenger. 

“Under this system, an error-free reading of a passenger’s scan image relies on a TSO making a discretionary determination about a passenger’s sex based on their appearance rather than the gender with which they identify,” they continued. “This protocol may be well-suited to screen some cisgender passengers, but they do so at the expense of singling out transgender or gender nonconforming individuals whose physical appearances may not necessarily match their biological sex.” 

The lawmakers said TSA should “implement a screening protocol that does not rely on TSOs making often-subjective decisions about an individual’s gender identity” in light of Petosky’s incident. 

“As evidenced by Ms. Petosky’s experience and the myriad other stories we have heard recently, such a protocol can put transgender passengers at greater risk of being incorrectly screened, thereby unduly requiring them to undergo a ‘pat down’ — an additional procedure which many have found to be extremely invasive and degrading,” they wrote. 

“It is a sad reality that members of the transgender community face adversity every day,” the letter concluded. “The experiences of many transgender airline passengers such as Ms. Petosky demonstrate that more must be done to ensure transgender individuals are able to travel without fear of facing humiliation or degradation at security checkpoints. While being mindful of enacting the appropriate security precautions to keep all travelers safe, the TSA must also take steps to ensure that its employees are prepared to serve transgender individuals with the dignity, discretion, and respect that they, like all Americans, deserve.” 

The letter was signed by Reps. Adam Schiff (Calif.); Mark Pocan (Wis.); Brian Higgins (N.Y.); Don Beyer (Va.); Tony Cárdenas (Calif.); Judy Chu (Calif.); David Cicilline (R.I.); Katherine Clark (Mass.); Suzan DelBene (Wash.); Sam Farr (Calif.); Steve Israel (N.Y.); Bill Keating (Mass.); Joseph Kennedy (Mass.); Derek Kilmer (Wash.); Alan Lowenthal (Calif.); Betty McCollum (Minn.); Jim McDermott (Wash.); Jim McGovern (Mass.); Patrick Murphy (Fla.); Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.); Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.); Scott Peters (Calif.); Kathleen Rice (N.Y.); Adam Smith (Wash.); Jackie Speier (Calif.); Mark Takano (Calif.); Dina Titus (Nev.); Chris Van Hollen (Md.); Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.); Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.); and Jared Polis (Colo.), as well as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.). 

Tags Peter Neffenger Shadi Petosky Transportation Security Administration TSA

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