ATLANTA – Cadence Baer will not be among the 27 million Americans flying this Thanksgiving to see family because she cannot deal with the humiliation of having her body scrutinized and laughed at in airport security.
Baer, a trans woman, gave up flying after a Transportation Security Administration officer identified her as a woman for the body scanner, which then triggered an alarm because her groin did not match the machine’s version of the female body.
“I was stopped in front of the entire line of people and two TSA agents touched my crotch repeatedly,” Baer, who began transitioning in 2017, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“The [security officer] finally started laughing to himself and pressed the blue button so that the machine would stop registering my penis as a potential threat. The TSA agents were still laughing as I walked away.”
Discrimination concerns are mounting with the growing use of technology by police, security and immigration services that fails to recognize trans and nonbinary people, who do not define themselves as male or female.
Flying while transgender
Trans travelers are often scrutinized at airports as their bodies and luggage – including prosthetics and chest binders – get flagged by body scanners for extra screening, said the National Center for Transgender Equality in a 2015 survey.
It found four in 10 trans travelers had a problem with airport security in the last year due to their gender identity, including being patted down, asked to show an undergarment, having the gender on their ID questioned and being detained.
“It made me feel scrutinized and a little violated,” said Parker Kehrig, a trans man, who had several scans and was patted down multiple times in Detroit and New York airports this year.
Such problems have led to calls for a new law – the 2018 Screening With Dignity Act, which would require the TSA to develop new procedures for screening trans passengers, including assessing the cost of developing gender neutral equipment.
The TSA said a tiny fraction of the complaints it received in the last financial year were from trans passengers – 28 out of more than 100,000 incidents – and that it trains its officers in collaboration with trans rights groups.
“TSA is committed to ensuring all travelers are treated with dignity, respect and courtesy,” it said in emailed comments, adding that its procedures were based on the technology available to detect aviation threats.
Trans travelers can also provide documentation from a doctor to alert the security officers of their gender identity before being screened and request a supervisor to monitor the process, the TSA said.