The American Transport Security Administration are facing fresh complaints from transgender regarding their latest security screening practices.

Transgender travellers are disproportionately more likely to experience problems at screening. Many are being failed by new full-body scanners installed at airports, which often result in trans passengers being subjected to humiliating searches.

On Monday the Miami Herald published a report into the practice of TSA agents and the shortcomings of the security screening process for trans travellers.

Passengers complained of invasive searches or being told by TSA agents to expose their genitals before they were allowed to pass through security.


One transgender woman who was named in the report as "Oliver" said she was forced to "prove" that the package detected by TSA body scanners and frisking was a penis.

She was only allowed to proceed to her plane after exposing herself to TSA agents.

The report said that although transgender people make up less than 1 per cent of the US population, they account for 5 per cent of formal complaints to the TSA.

Looking at the data from the last three years the non-profit ProPublica and co-authors of the report said that this may be significantly higher due to under reporting and the method by which the TSA records complaints.
Some of those transgender passengers who testified in the report found that their complaints were not on TSA records as such, instead falling under "a catchall classification".
Of the 174 responses received by ProPublica only 14 per cent said they had filed a formal complaint. The most common reasons for failing to make a complaint was the lack of information and did not want to publicly out themselves as transgender.

"Transgender people have complained of profiling and other bad experiences of traveling while trans since TSA's inception and have protested its invasive body scanners since they were first introduced in 2010" Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality told the report.

The body scanners which are designed to detect non-metal anomalies on the bodies of passengers, things that could potentially be weapons or drugs. However, anatomical features such as concealed or misdetermined genitalia may cause false readings.

Transgender people make up less than 1 per cent of the US but account for 5 per cent of formal complaints. Photo / Getty Images
Transgender people make up less than 1 per cent of the US but account for 5 per cent of formal complaints. Photo / Getty Images

Along with "gender nonconforming" passengers the TSA's screening technology has also failed disabled passengers. The report even said that passengers with thick hair or elaborate hairstyles have been known to set off body scanners at an increased rate.

The TSA issued a statement that screening is conducted "without regard to a person's race, color, sex, gender identity, national origin, religion or disability."


The agency said it launched a new programme in February for transgender awareness across its 43,000 staff involved in screening.

A flawed system?

Although the scanner is designed to detect hidden items without the need for physical checks or frisking, it does require a screening agent to input the gender of the traveller.
This is generally determined by sight, based on the person's appearance.

Misidentified gender can lead to false readings and embarrassing close inspections of their person.

Fully-body scanners were first introduced by the TSA in 2010. They were first trailed by the Customs Service in New Zealand in 2011.

Aviation Security Service introduced this latest generation of body scanner to international airports in June this year.

Avsec has been contacted for comment regarding their transgender awareness training for screening agents.

The NZCS guidelines specify that strip searches but be conducted in the presence of at least two officers which must be of the "same gender identity as the person being searched."

A transgender person may specify the gender of these officers.

Awareness of transgender and non-binary air passengers has risen among airlines. In February Air New Zealand announced it was exploring options for "non-binary" passengers to identify themselves on travel documents.

New Zealand first introduced the right to identify an unspecified gender "X" on passports in 2009, with changes in 2012 allowing travellers to apply for a "transgender passport" without a declaration from Family Courts.

The NZTA said that around 400 New Zealanders had applied for non-gender determined passports since 2012.