Traveler's upsetting airport security experience sparks trans policy debate

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Airport security protocol is being criticized once again regarding privacy issues, after a transgender traveler live-tweeted a lengthy, intrusive security screening process.

A Twitter user and business owner named

" target="_blank">Shadi Petosky was in Orlando Monday, trying to get on her flight to Minneapolis, when she was forced to go through additional security measures.


Petosky, who identifies as transgender, says the Transportation Security Administration body scan came up as detecting an "anomaly." It started with this tweet:

From there, Petosky chronicled detail after detail about what happened next: the response from TSA agents, missing her scheduled flight because of it, trying to book another (expensive) ticket, getting support from police later in the night – and even what the attention she's getting for her tweeting means for her privacy going forward.

In a statement Tuesday, a TSA spokesperson said it "takes all potential civil rights violations very seriously" and conducted a review, Advocate reports.

“After examining closed circuit TV video and other available information, TSA has determined that the evidence shows our officers followed TSA’s strict guidelines," he said. "Supervisory personnel and a Passenger Support Specialist participated in the screening to ensure guidelines were met.”

The TSA and transgender policy

In the spring of 2014, Al Jazeera America requested and received documents it says show transgender travelers were "singled out" during TSA screenings.

It also details the screening process, which features two buttons – blue for boy, pink for girls. The TSA officer presses the button, which activates a computer algorithm designed to scan male or female bodies. (See a 2011 photo of the system below, from a previous TSA blog post.)

"If a TSA officer presses the wrong button or if a passenger has body characteristics of more than one gender, unexpected body shapes may register as anomalies," Al Jazeera America says.

On its website, the TSA has a section about screening procedures for transgender persons. It's a few sentences, and notes that private screening or a conversation with a supervisor can be requested "at any time during the screening process."

The National Center for Transgender Equality put together a detailed list of rules and tips for trans people when traveling through airport security.


Petosky's saga – with some of her initial messages getting retweeted and shared hundreds of times – inspired the hashtag #travelingwhiletrans.

It's a privacy thing, many argue, being forced to disclose information that isn't necessary or relevant to airport security. It's also something non-trans people (which is the majority of persons) usually aren't forced to do regarding their gender.

Petosky, for her part, says she frequently flies (often between Los Angeles and Minneapolis) and has never had issues, so chalks her Monday experience up to "an anomaly."

Jen Richards – described as a trans activist and friend of Petosky – shared another similar story with ThinkProgress. And in 2013, an op-ed for the Advocate described the "downright nightmare" some transgender travelers can face at airports.

Petosky appeared on a Nerdist podcast a couple years ago to talk about a lot of things including her business, Puny Entertainment, which is located in Minneapolis and Los Angeles. (Note: Strong language.)

Vox put together a notecard slideshow discussing transgender myths – you can view that below, or by clicking here.

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