New Airport Security Technique Worries Trans Advocates

August 17, 2011

There are more changes coming from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).  This week they launched a pilot program that involves conducting mandatory short interviews, dubbed “chat-downs,” with every traveler coming through Boston’s Logan Airport. Agents look for signs of nervousness or concealment, and any other suspicious behavior. “We are looking for behaviors that are out of the norm,” the TSA’s local security director told National Public Radio.

But NCTE is concerned that mandatory “chat-downs” will disparately affect transgender people, resulting in harassment and unwarranted selection for invasive screening.  Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, says:

“The TSA continues to do a good job of making transgender people uncomfortable at airports. The TSA already employs interview-style interventions at airports across the country, and the TSA’s intent to explore and possibly expand this program is worrisome. ”

Read the rest of this entry »

NCTE and allies urge TSA to treat trans travelers fairly

January 4, 2011

Just before Thanksgiving we provided a travel advisory for transgender people in light of invasive new TSA screening procedures. Unfortunately, in recent weeks we have been hearing disturbing reports from some trans people about how they have been treated at the airport. While most transgender people have traveled without incident over the last month,  these stories confirm that TSA’s current policies not only violate the privacy of all travelers but create serious risks that trans people will be detained, humiliated and harassed. Today NCTE joined with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Transgender Law Center in sending a letter to TSA Administrator John Pistole urging immediate action to ensure transgender people do not encounter abuse at the airport.

NCTE and our allied organizations will continue to oppose intrusive and ineffective TSA practices and to work for appropriate policies and staff training to prevent harassment and abuse of transgender travelers. If you have encountered mistreatment by airport security staff, we need to hear your story. NCTE, NCLR and TLC have created a simple web form where you can share your airport experience. Please note: This is not a legal intake form – these stories will be used to advocate for changes in TSA policies and procedures.

In addition to completing our incident report form, we strongly encourage you to file a complaint directly with the Department of Homeland Security, Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on their website.

An update on TSA

August 3, 2010

Over the last several months, NCTE has been working with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to address concerns about privacy and harassment of transgender travelers in airport security screening. This has included creating and updating informational resources for the community about TSA’s Secure Flight program and airport body scanners, and bringing TSA officials to speak with community members at our Policy Conference this spring. It has also included educating TSA about the trans community, and making recommendations for nondiscrimination policies and training.

Recently we had the opportunity, along with other privacy advocates, to see a demonstration of TSA’s body scanner machines. The demonstration did not allay our basic concerns about the current use of this technology, but it did clarify some things. We learned that TSA’s backscatter machines (one of the two types used) are set to use an automatic image filter to mute the resolution of the body scan – but that even the filtered image could be enough to out someone as trans. We learned that, in response to privacy concerns, the software capacity of the scanners to store and transfer images of travelers is now completely removed from the machines when they are installed in airports. And we learned that officers viewing the scans are trained only to report the presence of an anomalous object on a body scan to officers at the security checkpoint; figuring out what the object is is supposed to be left entirely to officers at the checkpoint. We are encouraged that TSA is looking seriously at automated threat detection systems that are less privacy-invasive, but also concerned that the agency’s massive investment in the current machines will make a swift transition to alternative methods of primary screening unlikely.

A measure in Congress to limit use of the scanners, though it passed the House last year, died in the Senate. Senators Klobuchar and Bennett recently introduced a bill that, instead of banning primary use of body scanners, would make it mandatory nationwide. The prospects for the Klobuchar-Bennett bill are uncertain. Meanwhile, TSA continues to use Recovery Act funds to place scanners in airports around the country, and to step up its PR offensive in support of the scanners.

In April, NCTE joined the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the ACLU, Public Citizen and many other organizations in petitioning the Department of Homeland Security to suspend the deployment of body scanners for primary screening. DHS refused, and EPIC is now seeking a court order to limit use of the scanners, asserting violations of privacy and religious exercise, as well as failure to follow proper regulatory procedures in deploying the scanners. That lawsuit is now pending in court, and may be for some time.

NCTE continues to receive occasional reports of inappropriate or harassment treatment of transgender travelers at security checkpoints, and to communicate about these issues with TSA. To date, NCTE has not received any reports of problems for transgender people associated with TSA’s Secure Flight program, which collects travelers’ name, date of birth and gender at the time of booking to check against government watch lists.

NCTE will keep working to ensure that transgender Americans have no reason to be afraid of flying.

NCTE Joins Broad Coalition To Oppose Biometric National ID

April 15, 2010

NCTE has joined with the American Civil Liberties Union and a broad coalition of other groups concerned about the privacy and civil liberties implication of legislation that proposed by Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham earlier this week. To read more about the bill, about biometric ID’s and more, go to Broad Coalition Urges President Obama and Congress To Oppose Biometric National ID.

In Maryland, a big step back? Act now!

December 10, 2009

The Maryland Vehicle Administration (MVA) is currently considering an update to their policy regarding changing the gender marker on a driver’s license effective January 1, 2010.

In recent years, many states such as Massachusetts, New Jersey, Colorado, Ohio and the District of Columbia have updated their policies to ensure transgender people can obtain accurate driver’s licenses. But while most states are moving in the right direction, Maryland is set to take a big step in the wrong direction.

The MVA current policy states that to change the gender marker, an applicant must provide a physician or psychologist’s report to confirm that the applicant is in active treatment. The MVA requires annual re-evaluations until the applicant “meets requirements for permanent gender change.” If you are using a name other than your birth name, you must bring the document that initiated the change of name, such as a marriage certificate, divorce decree or court name change order and your current License.

The new policy would require an amended birth certificate. This requires going through the court system. Maryland code states that they will issue a birth certificate reflecting the proper gender only upon receipt of a certified copy of an order of from a court indicating that the sex of an individual born has been changed by surgical procedure and whether such individual’s name has been changed. You cannot change the sex on a birth certificate simply by providing proof that you are undergoing medical treatment or procedures for gender reassignment.

Equality Maryland has been working hard along with several of our partners including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project to resolve this matter, but at this point the MVA is prepared to move forward with this very backward and potentially dangerous policy change in the New Year.

TAKE ACTION! Contact Governor O’Malley’s office and ask them to halt the implementation of this short sighted and dangerous policy change. Click here to take action. Please pass this alert along to anyone you know who lives in Maryland. Click here for more information from Equality Maryland.

Ohio Protects Drivers’ Safety and Privacy

October 2, 2009

The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles last week rolled out an updated policy on changing gender designations on driver’s licenses. This policy will make it easier for many residents of the Buckeye State to seek employment, open a bank accounts and post office boxes, travel and conduct other business while protecting their privacy and safety. It will also assist law enforcement and other government agencies by ensuring that this most common form of identification reflects how individuals live their daily lives.

Under the new policy, Ohio drivers can obtain an updated license by filling out, along with the medical or mental health provider, a simple form verifying that they are receiving care for gender transition in accord with established standards of care. Ohio’s policy reflects the current trend in motor vehicle agencies across the country, and is similar to existing policies in the District of Columbia, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and several other states. While the new Ohio form is not yet available online, more information is available via TransOhio. If you are interested in improving driver’s license policies in your state, please contact


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