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.