Traveling While Trans: An Airport Security Update

November 25, 2013

As of May 16, 2013, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has equipped all airport scanners with Automated Target Recognition (ATR) software. This software still scans the contours of your body under your clothes, but it doesn’t display images of your body. Instead, it automatically detects objects under your clothes and displays them as yellow blocks on a generic figure. From a privacy perspective, this is definitely an improvement, but ATR can still flag items such as binders or prosthetics as “anomalies,” and this can still lead to invasive questions and pat-downs.

TSA also continues to expand its TSA Pre-Check program—a voluntary, fee-based, pre-screening initiative that passengers can apply to participate in prior to their arrival at airport checkpoints. Participants will be able to use designated Pre-Check lanes and could be permitted to choose not to remove their shoes, toiletries, laptops, light outwear and belts as they move through security. While enrollment in the program does not guarantee that an individual will be exempt from more invasive screening measures, it may decrease the likelihood of experiencing a pat-down. TSA launched Pre-Check last year for participants in certain airlines’ elite frequent-flyer programs, and for those already enrolled in trust traveler programs through U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), such as Global Entry. Starting sometime this fall, travelers will also be able to apply to enroll directly in TSA Pre-Check by paying a fee (expected to be $85), submitting a detailed application, and providing fingerprints at a designated enrollment site. Again, this will not cure privacy issues with airport screening, but for trans folks who travels frequently this is an option worth considering.

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New Resource: Preparing for Airport Security

November 21, 2012

While most transgender and gender non-conforming people get through airport security without any incidents, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) urges travelers to understand their rights before going through airport security with our new resource Airport Security and Transgender People.

The seasonal Holiday travel uptick can mean things are more hectic and potentially confusing for travelers and for Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) than usual. Airport security practices do not allow transgender travelers to completely avoid invasive screenings or pat-downs. However, all travelers have a right to safety, privacy, and respect.

Transgender travelers should be familiar with specific protections they have at airport security including:

  1. You can opt out of body scanning machines at any time. However, travelers who opt-out of body scanning machines will be required to undergo a thorough pat-down.
  2. Transgender travelers have a right to a pat-down by an agent of the same gender as the traveler. This is based on your gender presentation. The gender on your identification documents and boarding passes should not matter for pat-downs.
  3. Travelers have a right to request that a pat-down be held in a private screening area, and with a witness or companion of the traveler’s choosing.
  4. You should not any time be subjected to personal questions about your gender, or be forced to lift, remove or raise an article of clothing to reveal a prosthetic item. Prosthetic items include binding garments and breast forms.
  5. All children under age thirteen have a right to modified screening procedures.

NCTE recommends that individuals take simple steps to ensure a smooth experience at airport security including:

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