5 August 2011
by Bridgette P. LaVictoire
Being transsexual is neither easy nor exactly something that is absolute in terms of expression and surgeries. For some (myself included), surgeries are an absolute. It is necessary to have the final surgeries in order to be as completely female as possible, but others never have bottom surgery or only have the orchiectomy or any procedures that go part way. This is a problem for the Transportation Security Administration.
A recent settlement between Ashley Yang, 29, and the TSA means that TSA managers are having to undergo transgender sensitivity training. Yang was employed as a screener for two years at LAX, but was fired for using the women’s restroom. Yang had also been ordered to dress like a man and to pat down male passengers.
According to Kristina Wertz of the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, “Ashley lives her life as a woman. Her co-workers recognized her as a woman. Passengers recognized her as a woman. But her employer didn’t. She was asked to hide who she was just in order to earn a living.”
According to the Huffington Post:
The settlement, reached in December and completed last month, also called for Yang to receive five months of back pay and a five-figure award for pain and suffering.
TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said he could not discuss details of the case because of privacy rules. But he confirmed that the required training of managers started this summer and was ongoing.
Melendez, who reports that LAX has a staff of 2,500 security officers and 100 managers, stated “It’s part of the world we live in today. We need to be aware of transgender issues not only for our co-workers, but for passengers.”
Yang went full time in 2006, which was two years before she applied to work for the TSA. It was reported that “Her interviewer never doubted that the delicately featured candidate with artfully applied makeup and finely arched eyebrows was a woman, she said. Her California driver’s license identifies her as female.”
The report also stated that:
She informed the agency she was transgender before a background check revealed the name she used when she was a man. The agency reminded her that agents had to be the same gender as the passengers they search and asked whether she had gone through sex reassignment surgery, which she had not.
When she showed up for training, Yang was told that according to TSA regulations she would have to pat down men and was offered a position working with baggage. She insisted that part of the job’s appeal was working with people.
She was then told she would have to cut her long, highlighted hair, follow the dress code for male agents and use the men’s bathroom, she said. She obtained permission to wear a wig instead, but was told to buy one with “a more male look.”
Yang said she settled on a short Afro, but passengers and co-workers weren’t convinced. Because of her feminine appearance, she sometimes received inappropriate comments from men who were surprised to find a woman frisking them, Yang claimed.
She said men made comments like, “I haven’t had a girl touch me for a long time,” or, “Does this mean you are going to buy me dinner?”
Agents who did not know she was transgender would call her over to search women. After management became concerned that hair length requirements would violate the rights of some religions adherents, she was allowed to wear her hair in a bun.
The story is not uncommon. From 2004 to 2007, I was required by Coastal Georgia Community College to use the gender neutral bathroom on campus rather than the women’s room due to potential problems from women on campus. One student did complain when she thought I was using the women’s restroom. Like Ms Yang, I have not had the full surgeries, but do look incredibly female.
It is disheartening that this is going on. What is more, the new security rules also mean that many trans people are facing the horrific choice of flying to their destination and getting shown to be trans or finding alternative means of getting to their destination.