Equality Institute

Equality Insights Blog

An Explanation of TSA's Transgender Policy

Many of our clients are in the travel industry and a common question that arises is about the rules the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has about transgender travelers. Here's the lowdown: 

Part One, TSA ID checkpoint: The policy starts out pretty simple. When a traveler approaches a TSA agent to present their ticket and ID, if the name on the ID matches the name on the ticket, there should be no issues, even if the traveler's gender presentation does not match the photo on the ID. The agent should NOT challenge the traveler. Therefore, a transgender traveler who does not have an ID (or even a name) that reflects their current gender identity should buy their ticket using the name and gender on their ID, whatever that happens to be, even if they are uncomfortable using their "dead" name (their name given at birth).

Part Two, Screening: This is where things get tricky, particularly for travelers who do not have TSA Pre which uses a less invasive screener. We recommend that transgender travelers get TSA Pre to avoid potentially uncomfortable situations. When a traveler approaches the screening machine that requires you to put your arms over your head, the agent presses a button assigning that traveler a "male" or "female" gender based on their best guess. The machine is programmed to look for traditional anatomical characteristics of those genders and trigger a secondary screening if there's an aberration. For example, if the traveler presents as female, and the agent presses the "female" button, yet the traveler has a penis, that will trigger a pat-down and could cause discomfort and alarm to the traveler.

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Travelers can also request a pat-down (even in a private room) instead of going through the scanner. Pat-downs are conducted by someone of the same gender as the traveler presents themself.

These policies concern trans travelers for a few reasons: 1) the scanner assigns traditional anatomical characteristics to each gender rather than reflecting the breadth of identity; and 2) the new "universal" pat-down policy is more aggressive and often humiliating and hostile. Don't be surprised if your trans clients and employees have concerns about TSA when traveling and if you are in the  travel industry, be prepared to answer these questions.