August 7, 2018 at 1:28 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
New TSA bill seeks to improve screening for trans passengers

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) has introduced the Screening With Dignity Act. (Photo by Nymetsfan8790 via Creative Commons)

New legislation introduced on Tuesday by Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) seeks to improve the screening process for transgender passengers, who report a high level of invasive practices at security checkpoints.

The bill, known as the Screening With Dignity Act, would require the Transportation Security Administration to develop procedures to screen transgender passengers that take into consideration their particular needs.

The legislation would require that the TSA begin conducting in-person training of all officers on the screening procedures for transgender passengers and whenever possible with the participation of transgender rights groups.

Rice said in a statement she introduced the legislation because the transgender community “deserves to be treated with fairness and respect in all aspects of life, including travel.

“Maintaining high safety standards and screening all passengers with dignity should not be mutually exclusive,” Rice said. “It is clear that TSA needs to reassess its technological capabilities and improve its screening procedures to be more inclusive and ensure that no American is ever humiliated or discriminated against while going through security.”

Rice announced in a statement Monday she’d introduce legislation and a spokesperson confirmed the bill was introduced Tuesday.

In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 43 percent of respondents reported having at least one problem related to being transgender in the past year.

One respondent is quoted as saying a TSA agent referred to him as “it” when he went through screening following gender reassignment surgery, then — after repeatedly being told he wasn’t a man — had to argue with TSA that a male employee needed to do the pat down after being informed a woman would be more appropriate.

Another respondent was quoted as saying TSA subjected them to a longer screening as TSA searched their bag, pulled out intimate items and called friends to look and laugh. The respondent reported having “to remove my wig to prove I was the same person” and being “humiliated.”

The Screening With Dignity Act would require TSA to conduct two studies within 180 days. The first would evaluate the cost and feasibility of retrofitting advanced imaging technology screening equipment, or developing new equipment, that would operate in a gender-neutral manner. The second study would assess the impact TSA’s screening has on self-identified transgender and gender-nonconforming passengers compared to other travelers.

Further, the bill would codify vital privacy and anti-discrimination rules for travelers on the basis of numerous characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

The legislation has 15 original co-sponsors and support from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the bill is a crucial step in alleviating the challenges transgender passengers face in TSA screenings.

“The TSA is broken, and it has been broken for all travelers for a long time,” Tobin said. “For many transgender people, every vacation or business trip begins with invasive body scans and humiliating pat-downs. No more empty promises – the TSA needs to make real changes to both the ineffective machines that cause so many false alarms and their training and procedures.”

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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