A trans woman, going by the name Olivia in order to protect her identity, described how she was left traumatised following an incident with airport security where she felt pressured to show her genitals in order to be allowed board a flight.
While the incident happened in 2017, it has recently come to public attention as part of an investigative piece by ProPublica looking at reported instances of trans and gender nonconforming travellers feeling forced to expose themselves during TSA (Transportation Security Administration) searches.
Olivia had planned to fly from Florida’s Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. During the pre-boarding security check, Olivia entered the full body scanner. Upon completion she was told by an airport security officer the scanner had noted something in the groin area and she would need to be patted down and have her hands tested for explosive residue.
The airport security officer then told her that the pat down was insufficient and she would need to undergo a further search. Another pat down then took place in a private room, with the officer focusing on the groin and leg area. Olivia explained, “I told her, ‘If the issue is what you are feeling, let me tell you what this is. It is my penis.’”
At this point, three other female officers entered the room. Olivia was informed that, despite the airport rule that passengers be searched by officers of the same gender as the passenger represents, she would have to be searched by a male officer. Olivia refused this, to be told that if she did not consent to a search by a male officer she could not fly and would be escorted from the airport building.
An understandably upset Olivia began to cry but, despite pleas, there was no budging the airport security officers. Finally, Olivia asked “Can I just show you?” While it is stressed that officers should not allow passengers to remove underwear during a search, the officers stood there as Olivia undressed her lower half, exposing her genitals. Following this, the officers said she could board her plane.
Olivia told her interviewer that following the incident, she has a fear of travel, being understandably traumatised by the humiliating event.
The piece went on to describe that of the 170 plus people who reported negative experiences, including pressure to expose themselves during airport checks, only 14 people had filed an official complaint due to either a fear of outing themselves or a desire to forget about the experience.
Harper Jean Tobin of the National Center for Transgender Equality told ProPublica, “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.”
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