Legislation Reintroduced to Reform TSA’s Transgender Passenger Screening Process

One lawmaker is making a second attempt to push the TSA to develop gender neutral screening procedures at airports.

Legislation has been reintroduced in the House to change the way that the Transportation Security Administration screens transgender passengers at airports.

The Screening with Dignity Act of 2018 (H.R. 6659) would require the TSA to develop new procedures and training protocols for its officers on “how to appropriately and respectfully screen self-identified transgender passengers.”

The bill’s sponsor says that although it is likely unintentional, gaps in TSA’s current screening process unfairly subject transgender passengers to improper treatment by security officers.

The bill is being reintroduced by Congresswoman Kathleen Rice (D-NY). She was the sponsor of the bill when it was last introduced in 2016.

“The transgender community deserves to be treated with fairness and respect in all aspects of life, including travel,” said Representative Kathleen Rice. “Maintaining high safety standards and screening all passengers with dignity should not be mutually exclusive. It is clear that TSA needs to reassess its technological capabilities and improve its screening procedures to be more inclusive and ensure that no American is ever humiliated or discriminated against while going through security.”

According to Rice, TSA’s advanced imaging technology currently requires officers to identify each passenger as either “male” or “female” before entering the screening unit. As a result, transgender passengers are often flagged as “anomalies” if they trigger an alarm, and could potentially be “outed” as transgender before being required to undergo additional screening. This has led to several reported incidents of public humiliation, discrimination and harassment.

The legislation is relatively vague as to how it proposes the TSA accomplish the task of developing new screening procedures for transgender travelers. It states:

…the [TSA] Administrator shall develop procedures to appropriately and respectfully screen self-identified transgender passengers. In developing such procedures, the Administrator shall take into consideration the particular needs of persons whose gender identity is different or is perceived to be different from their assigned sex at birth and the particular impact of screening on transgender passengers as opposed to the general population of passengers.

It does go on to state, however, that the agency Administrator must ensure the following with respect to passenger screening:

  • Viewing individual human scanner images is prohibited
  • Retaining individual passenger image data is prohibited
  • Passengers must be provided with an alternative to the advanced image screening
  • Pat-downs must be conducted by an officer of the gender requested by the passenger
  • Passengers must be able to be provided with the option of private screening with a witness of the passenger’s choice
  • Passengers are only required to lift or remove clothing exposing sensitive areas of the body or to remove prostheses when no less intrusive screening method is available and the passenger is provided with visual privacy via a drape or other means in a private screening area
  • Passenger profiling on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, genetic information, sexual orientation, parental status, or gender identity would be prohibited

The bill would also require the TSA to conduct two studies, one to assess the cost and feasibility of either retrofitting advanced imaging technology screening equipment or developing new equipment so that it is gender neutral, and another to evaluate the particular impact that TSA’s screening has on self-identified transgender passengers as opposed to the general population.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.