A transgender woman has been pressured into showing TSA (Transportation Security Administration) officer her genitals in order to board her plane, according to a report.
A 36-year-old trans woman Olivia (not her real name) told Pro Publica that she had to expose herself in order to clear security and catch her flight under pressure from TSA officers in Florida’s Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. She entered the full-body scanner during the security process, but she was met by a female officer on the other side and was told that the scanner had detected something. She required a pat-down, with the scanner’s display specifically highlighting her groin area.
Olivia, as a transgender woman, had faced TSA scrutiny before, but a manual search at the checkpoint had been enough to assure TSA officers that there wasn’t a weapon or something else hidden in her undergarments. This encounter with the TSA, though, was very different.
After the officer patted down Olivia and tested her hands for explosive residue, she said that she still couldn’t clear Olivia to board her flight, and that a further search would be required.
Olivia was then led to a private room, and the officer patted her down again, running her hands down Olivia’s legs and over her groin.
Olivia told the officer that if the issue is what she’s feeling, it’s her penis. Soon after, three other female TSA officers entered the room, according to Olivia.
Even though TSA rules require that passengers be searched by officers of the same gender, Olivia was told by the TSA supervisor that she would have to be patted down by a male officer. Olivia refused to be searched by a man, so the officers told her that because she was not consenting to a search, she could not board her flight, and would be escorted out of the terminal.
Olivia started crying and pleaded with the officers to just show them.
Even though TSA officers aren’t supposed to allow passengers to remove undergarments, the officers in the room did not object when she pulled her skirt and underwear down to her ankles.
She was eventually cleared to continue to the gate.
Despite TSA’s commitment to treating all passengers fairly and equally, the agency struggles to ensure the fair treatment of transgender and gender-nonconforming people.
ProPublica reviewed complaints filed with the TSA and found that 5% of the complaints between January 2016 and April 2019 came from transgender travelers, even when trans people comprise less than 1% of the population.
According to TSA press secretary Jenny Burke, the agency does not conduct strip searches, but does require passengers to “adjust clothing” during pat-downs if required.
She told ProPublica that TSA screening is done “without regard to a person’s race, color, sex, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability”.