New Airport Security Technique Worries Trans Advocates

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. ”

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), ranking minority member of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, has repeatedly questioned TSA’s behavior detection techniques, and last week urged TSA to postpone this new pilot.

Unfairly depicted as being “deceptive” simply by being ourselves, transgender people have good reason to be nervous.  Indeed, in NCTE’s groundbreaking report conducted with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, almost a third of transgender respondents experienced disrespect or discrimination in airports or with TSA agents. This procedure, like the whole-body scanners, may lead to de facto targeting of transgender people for aggressive screening.

Right now, the “chat-down” program is in a two-month test phase. However, if the TSA expands the program, NCTE urges the TSA to provide rigorous training to their officers on how these interviews could be experienced by transgender people – and anyone else with an innocent but very personal fact they’d rather not share.

NCTE encourages transgender travelers who experience problems with airport security screening to file complaints with TSA’s Office of Civil Rights and Liberties and the Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. To aid in our advocacy efforts, please share copies of your complaints with NCTE.

38 Responses to New Airport Security Technique Worries Trans Advocates

  1. Tracy says:

    This is especially worrisome to me. I’m already nervous going through security, hoping that I’m not violating the 3 oz. liquid rule or something equally silly that would keep me from boarding my flight. The thought of being questioned because I “appear nervous” (what does that even mean, anyway?) is scary. As of right now, I’m pre-op, pre-hormones ftm and I get nervous enough that I’m going to get a second look just because I have that “typical” lesbian look (short hair, guys clothes, etc. I’m evidently a woman because I haven’t had top surgery yet). My partner, who is also ftm, has started taking hormones and passes quite well. However, he has not had his legal name change yet and his birth name is obviously feminine, therefore always drawing intense scrutiny from the TSA people who check IDs/boarding passes, and has, on occasion, been questioned to the point of extreme embarrassment and having the line held up behind him. My partner also has a stutter (has had it since childhood), especially in situations where he feels uncomfortable, nervous, or scared. So the possibility of him being called out by the TSA for one of these “chats” could be greatly intensified already due to the name not matching his appearance issue, plus if he stutters during this chat, what till the TSA accuse him of? I’m personally worried what could happen to me after I begin my transition. I hope the TSA takes some of these worries extremely seriously as 1) it’s hard enough to travel and deal with some of the increasingly invasive procedures (which I do understand, for the most part) and 2) it’s hard enough being trans anywhere at anytime, regardless of how well you might pass.

  2. Shannon says:

    My 11 year old trans daughter was patted in the Philly airport a couple of months ago after going through the body scanner. I totally understand national security; however, there comes a point when it is going to far. First we are patting down children, now we are having “chat downs”…..what next……body cavity searches?

  3. […] commenter on NCTE’s blog warning about this new pilot program said: “…My partner, who is also ftm [female to […]

  4. […] a TSA pilot program is raising concerns. Agents conduct mandatory short interviews with travelers, which have been dubbed […]

  5. Susy Doll says:

    One has to wonder if America has hired former KGB agents to advise on security procedures.

  6. services security…

    […]New Airport Security Technique Worries Trans Advocates « National Center for Transgender Equality's Blog[…]…

  7. Cydne says:

    I’m an autistic trans person with piercings and tattoos. Things like this make me want to never go to the US.


    […]New Airport Security Technique Worries Trans Advocates « National Center for Transgender Equality's Blog[…]…

  9. Merri says:

    Unfortunately, flying, like driving, is a privilege, not a right guaranteed by law; and the government has a legitimate interest in preventing airplanes from being used as guided missiles. This trumps privacy concerns. Embarrassment, though, is self-inflicted, stemming from our sense of shame at being who we are. The real problem is a culture that denies us the basic human right to be ourselves, teaches us (and many other people) that we are not good enough to be in public places, and forces us to try to “pass” muster with the conformity police every day. This is a lesson we must un-learn and a culture we must stand up against, every day, whoever we are.

    • Flying is a mode of privately owned public transport, nothing more, nothing less. There’s no privilege involved. Any thoughts of anything other than that is just made up nonsense. Safety first for sure, but behaving respectfully towards all passengers regardless of who or what they are should just be the norm. It’s called behaving like a professional adult who also happens to be a federal employee. Rudeness is never appropriate behavior, and anyone that feels that they can not live up to that expectation should not be working in a job where they interact with other humans!

  10. Jennifer Wells says:

    And then there is the question of competency… is the typical TSA agent conducting so called “chat downs” professionally qualified to make a psycological determination as a result of a chat down? I sincerely doubt it. Sounds like profiliing to me.

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