The transgender woman, Shadi Petosky, said Tuesday in an interview that TSA officers at the Orlando International Airport calibrated the full-body scanner for a woman, and the device flagged what officers called an “anomaly” in the groin area.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) defended its officers’ treatment of a transgender woman on Tuesday, a day after she says she was harassed and held for 40 minutes while passing through security in Orlando, Fla., causing her to miss a flight.
The transgender woman, Shadi Petosky, said Tuesday in an interview that TSA officers at the Orlando International Airport had calibrated the full-body scanner for a woman, and the device flagged what officers called an “anomaly” in the groin area. Petosky, a writer and producer who had been traveling to Minneapolis on American Airlines, said that the officers did not appear to know what to do once the scanner flagged her even though she had explained that she is transgender.
“The TSA agents were kind of arguing with each other about process,” she said.
One officer insisted that she be rescreened, telling her to “get back in the machine as a man or it was going to be a problem,” Petosky said, but another officer said that she could not be rescanned. Instead, she said she was held in a screening room for 40 minutes and told not to use her phone, while TSA officials discussed what to do. She said she was patted down twice and her luggage was searched.
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In an email on Tuesday, a spokesman for the agency, Mike England, said that its officers handled the situation according to policy.
“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 wrote. “Supervisory personnel and a passenger-support specialist participated in the screening to ensure guidelines were met.”
Petosky said she followed TSA guidelines, which say that people should travel under the “name and gender that appears on their government-issued ID,” but activists say the agency still subjects transgender travelers to unwanted and invasive treatment.
Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said Tuesday that many transgender people face no-win situations while flying: Those who do not want to go through the scanners are subjected to a lengthy private screening process, and those who opt for the scanners end up facing similar treatment if they are flagged by the devices.
“Most Americans would be totally freaked out” if they knew how invasive the process is, Keisling said.
Criticism of the screening of transgender travelers has been reported at a number of airports across the country, including Los Angeles; Louisville, Ky.; Seattle and Kennedy Airport in New York.
In July, the National Center for Transgender Equality joined a lawsuit against the TSA, claiming the agency unlawfully instituted and expanded its use of full-body scanning machines without allowing for the public to review and comment. The devices are designed to screen people who identify as the sex they were born with.
Petosky said she missed her flight. She said that airline employees were delayed in responding to her requests for a boarding pass, sold and refunded her upgrade, and at one point asked the police to remove her from the airport.
“The police said ‘no,’ ” Petosky said. “The police said, ‘Give her a boarding pass,’ and then they did.”
An airline spokesman, Ross Feinstein, said in a statement that the “airline immediately rebooked Ms. Petosky on the next available flight — at no charge — to Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.”
Petosky was told by an American employee to request a private screening in the future, but she said that TSA guidelines, which suggest that travelers request such screenings, should be more inclusive to transgender people.