On August 15 the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rolled out the latest phase of their Secure Flight program which requires passengers to provide their full name, birth date, and gender when booking tickets. Members of the transgender community are justifiably concerned about the problems this will create.
Many trans individuals do not have identification that matches their presentation or the name they regularly use. Others have IDs with conflicting information. The Advocate asked the TSA how trans folks should handle these situations and got some very un-helpful advice:
TSA spokesman Dwayne Baird told Advocate.com on Thursday that transgender travelers who are purchasing tickets should declare “the gender that they were at the time that they booked their flight.”
OK, so that’s a pretty terrible quote. A person’s gender is the gender they identify as. I’m sure Baird means we should use the gender on our legal forms of identification, though. Which does nothing to deal with potential problems that could arise when that gender does not match how we are presenting.
Kristina Wertz of the Transgender Law Center offered a much more realistic view of what trans folks will have to deal with:
“A lot of transgender people don’t have documents” that match up with how they currently identify, she said. “There are always troubles that arise when dealing with documents. People are sometimes forced to disclose their transgender status in a situation where they may not want to.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality has released a FAQ about the impact of the Secure Flight program on trans folk. It contains some disturbing information about how the new rules will be implemented and the potential for outing trans folk or creating barriers to flying:
TSA requires that the booking agents, airlines, travel agents, or any other person handling travel data for flight passengers collect full legal name, date of birth, and gender for each passenger. TSA does not collect this information directly. While TSA has strict federal procedures for the handling of private information once that information is provided to TSA there is no restriction on third-party use of collected data. As such, airlines, travel agents, and other trip organizers may use the information as they desire. They may choose to simply disregard the information, save it in a database, or make use of it in some way. This will make it harder for anyone who flies pre-transition or during transition to keep their transgender identity private in the future.
Also, gender information may be incorrectly categorized in the first place, leaving potential documentation inconsistencies and hassles at the airport. This is especially true in any instance in which the passenger does not fill out the documentation themselves (such as when they are booking a flight in person or though a travel agent). In these situations, the non-passenger booking the flight on behalf of the passenger is unlikely to actually ask which gender marker should be placed on the form. Instead, they are likely to make an independent assessment of the appropriate gender marker based on their own perception of the passenger’s gender expression, name, or voice. Some airlines will also retain information you’ve input in the past and auto-fill certain categories when booking flights (such as through a frequent flyer account), which may then auto-fill incorrect information. Frequent flyer program participation may be impacted if the name on your program enrollment differs from the information you use to book your tickets.
The TSA’s stated reason for requiring this information is to decrease the number of false positives for passengers with names similar to those on the No-Fly list. The ACLU has argued that the No-Fly list is unconstitutional in the first place. Individuals with common Muslim names have been detained, as in the recent case of Shah Rukh Khan. Now this attempt to fix a system that is fatally flawed will increase the targeting of another group of people who too often experience unjustified policing.