August 14, 2012 at 3:45 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
FAA streamlines medical requirements for trans pilots

Federal Aviation Administration (photo public domain)

The Federal Aviation Administration has eliminated what’s been deemed excessive psychological testing to streamline the process under which transgender pilots receive medical certification, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

On Monday, the transgender advocacy group announced the FAA had changed online guidance for medical examiners — called the Aviation Medical Examiner Guide — to update the requirements for pilots with Gender Identity Disorder — the technical diagnosis for individuals who identify as transgender.

Harper Jean Tobin, director of public policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said transgender pilots will no longer have to go through the degree of psychological testing they once had to endure to fly.

“They’re very risk adverse; they make people jump through a lot of hoops,” Tobin said. “They’re different from a lot of professions in that way. But what’s been different for a lot of trans pilots is the hoops that they’ve been asked to jump through have been even more burdensome than what most people have to go through. And in a lot of cases, they’ve had no real rational connection to anything really related to a person’s transition.”

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, pilots had to pay out-of-pocket for cognitive and psychological tests, including personality examinations, ink blot and intelligence quotient tests. These tests, Tobin said, could add up to thousands of dollars for transgender pilots seeking the ability to fly.

For the last couple of years, Tobin said the National Center for Transgender Equality had medical professionals discuss the FAA policy and urge the agency to change it, which was later made in the guidance.

“It provides a lot more clarity,” Tobin said. “You still have to jump through hoops when you tell them you’re transitioning, but it’s more of the nature of provide your lab work that you had done, your hormone therapy — things are sort of more rationally connected to making sure that somebody is not having an adverse reaction to medication or something like that.”

According to guide, medical examiners must obtain from transgender pilots seeking certification a list of medications; copies of all records relating to a gender identity disorder diagnosis; psychiatric evaluations by a specialist in transgender issues that include an assessment of any substance abuse; and hospital reports if an individual has had surgery.

Tobin said determining how many transgender pilots the policy change would affect is difficult, although she acknowledged it’s “not a huge number of people.” She said her organization and others have heard about a dozen people who were negatively affected by the old policy.

“In terms of the barriers to employment to trans people across the country, it was a very small problem,” Tobin said. “What was different about it is it wasn’t the employers, it wasn’t airlines or other employers that were causing this problem, it was actually the government system that wasn’t working, and so we felt even though we felt this is something that doesn’t affect a lot of people, it was something we felt really needed to be changed so that everybody had a fair shot.”

FAA couldn’t be reached for comment on the policy change.

CORRECTION: An initial version of this article incorrectly referred to Harper Jean Tobin as Harper Jean Collins. The Blade regrets the error.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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