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32 Members of Congress Demand TSA Reform Trans Screening Procedures

Congressmen Adam Schiff, Mark Pocan, and Brian Higgins

Several members of congress are asking the federal Transportation Security Administration to revise its policies in the wake of the widely publicized and humilating experience of trans woman Shadi Petosky at Orlando International Airport last month. 

On September 21, Petosky endured a series of dehumanizing interactions with TSA agents while trying to return from a visit to see her mother, as The Advocate chronicled. Petosky’s live-tweets, along with the deluge of tweets that followed by trans allies using the hashtag #TravelingWhileTrans, lambasted a broken TSA screening system for trans travelers.

Now congressional leaders are speaking out for change. on Friday, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Brian Higgins (D-NY), along with 29 other members of Congress, sent a letter to the head of the TSA demanding an overhaul in the agency’s treatment of transgender passengers, according to a statement sent to The Advocate.

Pivotal among the changes urged in the letter is the insistence that TSA adopt a screening protocol which does not rely on TSA screeners' subjective approximations about an individual’s gender identity. The letter highlights Petosky’s experiences and states the following:

“While we understand the importance of vigilant airport security, we cannot countenance a security protocol that subjects transgender travelers to this level of indignity. 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.”

The letter asks the TSA to take three steps to ensure equitable treatment of trans travelers:

First, the letter notes that the TSA’s “procedures regarding the use of full-body scanners present unique challenges for transgender passengers.” Screeners must rely on their own assumptions to determine gender after examining the scanners. Instead of subjective appraisals, congressional leaders want the TSA to honor the gender identity professed by the traveler.

Next, the letter urges the TSA to refine its policy by letting trans passengers know that they do not have to reveal prosthetic devices or binding materials while in a public area. Publishing all expectations within its policy on its website will help to clarify regulations for trans travelers, the members of Congress contend. The letter also demands more culturally aware and trans-affirmative training for screeners.

Lastly, while praising the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services for launching their own investigations into Petosky’s ordeal, the letter asks TSA to be transparent with the transgender community and the public when conducting its own investigation.

Previously, The Advocate reported that, one day after Petosky’s incident, a TSA spokesman claimed that “After examining closed circuit TV video and other available information, TSA has determined that the evidence shows our officers followed TSA’s strict guidelines. Supervisory personnel and a Passenger Support Specialist participated in the screening to ensure guidelines were met.”

But the Human Rights Campaign insisted that the TSA's examination was not enough, and urged the TSA to conduct a full investigation into Petosky’s case, calling for “immediate action to ensure transgender travelers are treated equally and with full respect."

But despite TSA's claims that its agents strictly adhered to guidelines when screening Petosky, a Facebook post she wrote on Thursday contends quite the opposite. After thanking her friends, supporters, and the thousands of strangers online who shared her story, Petosky lays into what she calls the TSA's "lying statement," suggesting it plays on transphobic, debunked stereotypes that portray all trans people, and especially trans women, as inherently threatening. As Petosky explained on Facebook:

1. The TSA has NO written policy on trans and gender non conforming people. What up butches. There are no "strictest standards."

2. The TSA policy says that people are to be treated at the gender they are "presenting as." They violated that with me. There is no class on gender presentation. They read what they came in knowing. They make a guess, and if they guess wrong you get flagged as a potential threat. Not that we aren't used to being called a threat. We're sex perverts in bathrooms and pedophiles as teachers and body assimilation rapists in feminist spaces and killers on TV and traps in a bar and might attack someone in the hall on the a TV set and detrimental to gay and lesbian political progress and THE GREATEST THREAT OF ALL — are ruining stand-up comedy. ...

3. The TSA did not conduct an investigation that morning. They called me three days later to start an investigation. We talked for two hours and I found out a lot. It takes 7 days to get audio/video recordings. Which are owned by the airport, not the TSA. There are many ongoing civil rights investigations within the TSA and they take 30 days minimum. They have to fly down to Orlando and talk to everyone involved.

 

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