New Legislation Could Help Transgendered People at the Airport

iREUTERS/Kevork Djansezian

There is a new bill being introduced that would compel the Transportation Security Administration to adopt gender-neutral technologies and screening technologies.  The bill is being introduced by U.S. Representative, Kathleen Rice, who is a Democrat from New York.  The “Screening with Dignity Act” mandates new training protocols, new privacy protections and full-body scanning technology to be more inclusive of transgendered and non-binary passengers.  Rice is pushing this because she feels that no one “should have to go through airport security scared that they might be humiliated, discriminated against or outed”.

Unfortunately, though, this is a fact that many transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals worry about.  Fifteen Democrats are co-sponsoring the bill, which also has support from the ACLU and the National Center for Trans Equality.  Most full-body scanners require TSA agents to demarcate the body of the person being scanned as either male or female. If the body of the person being scanned doesn’t fit into the built-in assumptions of either designation, they may be subjected to additional screening, physical pat-downs, further questioning, or other invasive measures.

This isn’t something that I was aware of.  But clearly, this is discriminatory as it indicates that if you don’t have male or female genitalia then you’re a security risk and you’re hiding something.  How is this even allowed?  Further, a traveler may request to not be scanned, but they are still subject to a physical pat-down, which would prompt the same concerns of discriminatory treatment.  This kind of treatment is the same as saying “all Black people are…”.  Or “all Hispanic people are….”. Or “all Muslims are…”.  Which, we know not to be true.  And if you think it is true, you’ve got preconceived notions about a race or a group of people.

If an individual’s gender presentation doesn’t match what it says on their state-approved ID, they may be subjected to other screenings.  Essentially, they are at the mercy of whatever the officer believes a man or a woman to look like.  Unfortunately, if an individual has a state-issued ID that specifies gender-neutral or non-binary, TSA agents may not accept them.   Do they also question my height, if I were to wear heels through the screening?  I know that it’s not the same thing, at all, but I’m trying to point something out.  There are ways for me to alter my appearance, but I’m not getting targeted if my ID says I’m a female, and the officer feels that I look like a female.

A spokesperson for the TSA indicated that there are concerns with this system when it comes to gender.  But can they, or will they do something about it?  That’s where Rice’s bill comes in.  “In 2018, maintaining high safety standards and screening all passengers with dignity cannot be mutually exclusive.  The transgender community deserves to be treated with fairness and respect in all aspects of life, and travel is no exception.”  I certainly hope that Rice’s bill makes an impact.  Otherwise, transgendered and gender non-conforming individuals will be discriminated against every time they fly.  Is that fair?  In my opinion, it isn’t.  Equal treatment for individuals means not being harassed (even if it’s a form of systemic harassment) because of the way that you look.