Last updated: 09:57 PM ET, Sat October 17 2015

TSA Vows Increased Sensitivity to Transgender Fliers

Impacting Travel | Michael Isenbek | October 17, 2015

TSA Vows Increased Sensitivity to Transgender Fliers

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a pending civil rights case on its hands after detaining a transgender flier for showing an “anomaly” in a body scan. 

In the aftermath, TSA officials spoke with The Advocate and were emphatic that the agency will be more sensitive in the future.

Kimberly Walton, assistant administrator of TSA's Office for Civil Rights and Liberty told The Advocate, if anatomy seen with body scanners does not match apparent gender, it will no longer be described as an “anomaly.” But the administrator said transgender sensitivity is not a newly introduced topic to TSA.

Walton said to The Advocate that TSA has worked with groups “focused on the transgender community…for a long period of time” before the recent incident, naming the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), GLAAD, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, along with a number of state-based equality groups.

More specifically, Walton said TSA gave these groups “a window into our operations, so that they can, outside of any complaint, give us feedback. We also utilize these organizations in some of the trainings that we do,” which she called “Transgender 101,” according to The Advocate.

But, as Walton said, this information didn’t permeate the entirety of TSA, so after the incident, as she explained to The Advocate, “it became clear to us that we should expand (the training), and so we are here in the process of working with our office of training to deploy that to all of our workforce on the frontline” — that is, transportation security officers most commonly seen in large numbers at airports across the U.S.

Walton also mentioned changes made to the TSA website, providing “clear communication to the transgender community,” but she said they were “still in the process of providing more detail.”

When asked by The Advocate about how long it would take to implement the necessary training, she said, “I do not have a timeline, but we will deploy it as quickly as feasible.”

As a general message, Walton said to The Advocate, “I want transgender passengers to be assured that our policies and procedures focus on ensuring that all passengers are treated with dignity, respect, and courtesy… that is critical, in that we train our workforce to conduct our screening without regard to a person's race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

She added that “anxious” transgendered passengers should call (855) 787-2227 and let TSA know their travel plans, identify as trans and ask security checkpoint staff be notified about that fact, before arriving at the airport.

Submitting a rebuttal to TSA’s remarks, NCTE Director of Policy, Harper Jean Tobin, said in an email to The Advocate, "TSA's response completely misses the point. Whatever they call it, a machine flagging someone for questions or pat-downs of intimate body areas just because of their body parts is unacceptable — no matter how politely officers handle it.”

She also clarified NCTE’s role in TSA education, and stated to The Advocate, “while NCTE offers training to government agencies as a matter of course, our training has so far reached a small fraction of TSA staff who don't actually screen people.” 


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