New TSA Guidelines for Transgender Travelers

I’ve finally had a moment to read the new TSA guidelines for transgender travelers and I have to say, it looks pretty good.  At least at some levels, there seems to be some genuine understanding and recognition of our needs and stress points.  It was 2 years ago that I became acquainted with the lack of TSA preparedness with regard to transgender travelers.  I was pulled aside for a pat down because of an ‘anomaly’ on my bio scan.  To resolve the issue, I had to pull my packy out and show it to the TSA agents.  I’ve traveled many times and have had a variety of experiences with regard to scanning, pat-downs etc.  Some of them very unpleasant, some very professional.  I hope the latter is the trend of the future.

Just in case, though, I’m going to start carrying the newly posted TSA guidelines with me when I travel, so I can help educate agents who may not have really paid attention what management is communicating to the world.

I’ve got two links for you to check out.  One is the guideline itself, from the TSA website.  The other is a post about the guidelines on the Advancing Transgender Equality website.

Some items of note, from my perspective, from the TSA guideline:

  • Transgender travelers are encouraged to book their reservations such that they match the gender and name data indicated on the government-issued ID.
  • If a pat-down is chosen or otherwise necessary, private screening may be requested. Pat-downs are conducted by an officer of the same gender as presented by the individual at the checkpoint.
  • Travelers should neither be asked to nor agree to lift, remove, or raise any article of clothing to reveal a prosthetic and should not be asked to remove it.

As we know, individuals who are biased or in a bad mood, can always get around policy and recommendations if they wish.  I do not expect these guidelines to make travel for transgender and gender binary non-conforming individuals smooth and hassle free every time.  There is a lot of subjective language in the guidelines, enough to leave room for less than positive experiences for some of us.  Getting a pat-down by an individual who’s gender matches yours depends on your gender being on your ID, at the checkpoint.  My ID says female, my gender is mixed, I present masculine-to-male.  I have always gotten female agents.  Side note:  my wife asked if I’d want to be frisked by a male agent.  I’m ambivalent, but she’s of the opinion that female agents would be more liberal minded and flexible about gender identity than male agents.  Based on my experiences, women can be plenty inflexible, so I’m not sure it matters as much to me.

The guidelines use words like ‘should’ rather than something more firm like ‘will’ and I do wonder about the individual officer’s reaction to a traveler who asserted their rights to refuse a request to expose their prosthetic.  This remains to be seen.  I’ve gone through bio-scanners 4-6 times total and twice an ‘anomaly’ has been detected that has resulted in a pat-down.  Both times I was required to remove my packy for further inspection, the second time it was swabbed for bomb-material.  I’m hoping now that this guideline is on their website, that experience will not be repeated.

In the post on the ATE site they state this rather firmly:

In the event that a pat-down is required, it will only be conducted by an officer of the same gender as the traveler, based on the traveler’s gender presentation.

… but the guideline is mixed.  It speaks to matching the government issued ID, as presented at the checkpoint, but also says you’ll get an officer of the same gender you present.  Maybe I’m being nit-picky, but presenting an ID and presenting a gender are two different things to me.  The difference is potentially worrisome, I think.  Also, the interpretation of gender via presentation is not consistent or reliable, so keep that in mind.   Also, the TSA guidelines cover domestic travel.  If you travel internationally, you have to deal with the security protocols of each country you travel through.

If you feel that the agent(s) who you interact with are not respecting your rights, they encourage you to make contact:

Travelers who believe they have experienced unprofessional conduct at a security checkpoint are encouraged to request a supervisor at the checkpoint to discuss the matter immediately or to submit a concern to TSA’s Contact Center at:

Travelers who believe they have experienced discriminatory conduct because of a protected basis may file a concern with TSA’s Office of Civil Rights & Liberties, Ombudsman and Traveler Engagement at: Civil Rights for Travelers.

Travelers may also file discrimination concerns with the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

My experience with making that kind of contact have been very good. I had a series of communications with a representative from San Francisco International and one from Homeland Security after my first TSA pat-down and packy exposure incident.  I got more than lip service from them and that was before these guidelines came out, so I’m hoping things have only gotten better.  Let me know if you have transgender/gender binary non-conforming experiences.  I’m interested in how informed the agents are and how well they comply with the policies indicated on the TSA guidelines page.

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