The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) uses invasive airport security screening methods that can present particular concerns to transgender travelers. These protocols can include intrusive body imaging using full-body screening technology and pat-downs of the groin and breast area. The screening can disclose that you are wearing prosthetics or binding materials. In some cases, these protocols result in a transgender traveler’s gender identity being revealed to others.
When traveling, you should be aware that TSA personnel (or in some airports, a private company’s staff) can search all of your luggage by hand. Certain items that might be restricted, such as gel-filled breast forms, are not included within the 3.4-ounce liquid limit. However, they may result in you being subject to additional screening. While medical equipment and prosthetics might be allowed through the checkpoint, if you are concerned about other travelers seeing what is in your luggage, other options may be to put these in your checked baggage or request a private screening.
Gender Presentation and Identification
Presenting proof of identity as a passenger who is 18 years old or older can cause some transgender travelers anxiety. Under TSA rules, you will need to provide your name, gender, and date of birth when you reserve an airline ticket, and this information has to match your government-issued photo ID. Gender information is used to eliminate false matches with the same or similar names. Some transgender travelers have different names and genders listed on different forms of ID. If you are in this situation, you should bring a photo ID that matches your reservation because your documents will be checked. It should not matter to a TSA officer that your gender presentation doesn’t match the gender marker on your ID.
Can I Opt Out of a Full Body Scan?
Once you get to a security checkpoint at the airport, you must complete the screening process. TSA is authorized to fine you up to $11,000 if you don’t. TSA uses Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) to scan the contours of a traveler’s body to look for things concealed under clothes that could be dangerous items. A matter of particular concern to transgender travelers is that full body scanners may reveal intimate contours of your body. You can choose whether to be screened with a full-body scanner or a pat down search.
The scanner uses software that displays the outline of a generic person and identifies locations on the body that are categorized as anomalies or alarms that require a closer look. The TSA agent picks the gender that the technology should scan for just before the scan. The “anomalies” in a scan may include contours not considered typical for someone of a particular gender, or items like binding garments or prosthetics. Anything that the agent believes is out of the ordinary may be treated as a threat. An anomaly may result in a pat down or trigger unfounded fears in screening personnel.
You can opt out of the scan altogether, but you will be required to undergo a thorough pat down. If you choose a pat down in order to avoid the scans, the pat down will need to be performed by an officer of your gender based on your gender presentation, rather than your identification or through personal questions. Travelers may ask for a private screening at any time. You may take a witness of your choosing with you when you are being privately screened.
Can I Complain About Negative or Harmful TSA Screening?
If you believe your screening was inappropriate, you can ask to talk to a supervisor. You should tell the supervisor what occurred, the name of the TSA agent who conducted the screening or who was otherwise involved, and make an official complaint. The United States Department of Homeland Security’s Travel Redress Inquiry Program has a portal through which travelers can seek redress for negative screening experiences. You can also contact TSA through its website or call the TSA Office of Civil Rights. At some airports private companies conduct the screening, and they may have their own complaint processes.
In some cases, it may be appropriate to contact a private attorney or an LGBTQ social justice organization.