The Transportation Security Administration will no longer refer to transgender travelers' body parts as "anomalies," officials told the Advocate this week.
This decision comes in the wake of a high-profile incident involving Shadi Petosky, who identifies as a trans woman, live-tweeting her experience of being detained for several hours by the TSA in Orlando. She was subjected to pat-downs and scanned for traces of explosives.
Her story gave rise to a trending hashtag #travelingwhiletrans, which shows how often traveling regulations and the TSA's lack of gender-sensitive training have made transgender travelers feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
Last week, 32 members of Congress signed an open letter to the TSA urging the agency to change its current protocols for screening transgender passengers. The letter recommended, among other things, that TSA body screenings not rely on subjectively chosen gender.
Kimberly Walton, an assistant administrator at the TSA Office of Civil Rights and Liberty, told the Advocate that travelers are screened based on how they present their gender.
"The technology that we deploy, the best technology for the current and historical threat, does require the transportation security officer to either identify the person as a male or female," Walton said. "And that technology, it does depend on human anatomy. And so in a situation where a transgender traveler is coming through the checkpoint, that decision is made based on the way the individual presents."
TSA scanning machines use a gender-specific computer algorithm to screen passengers. When the machine finds a discrepancy with the gender selection made by the TSA agent, a yellow box, referred to as a "anomaly," appears on the scan. The system will continue to highlight such discrepancies, but agents will no longer refer to them as "anomalies."
It remains unclear what word the TSA will use instead, and a spokesman for the agency said it is working with a variety of trans and LGBT advocacy groups to "find an acceptable replacement for the word 'anomaly.'"
Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy at the National Center for Trans Equality, confirmed her organization is working with the TSA, but only in a limited capacity. The NCTE currently offers basic online cultural competence training for "a small fraction" of TSA agents, she said, but none of the agents who carry out body screenings have been asked to take it.
"We really have no knowledge of how much of their staff has received this training so far," Tobin told The Huffington Post. "We’re happy to help them do more of it but ultimately we believe there more basic changes they need to make to their screening process."
Fundamentally, Tobin said, the TSA needs to reform how it screens for security threats.
"Regardless of the language they use, a machine flagging someone for pat-downs or questions for intimate body parts just because of how those body parts look to the machine, that is the problem. That in itself is a major invasion of privacy," she said.
"They haven’t retrained their machines to be able to tell the difference between a threat and something that is just part of someone’s body," she added. "If they can’t do that it raises further questions about the utility, effectively and appropriateness of using these machines as a primary method of screening."
Transgender travelers concerned about the body scans can reach the TSA at (855) 787-2227.