The mother of a transgender teenager has filed a lawsuit against the Transporation Security Administration (TSA) claiming security officers at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) demanded her daughter be subjected to a genital examination in order to board their flight to New York.
Kimberly Erway has filed the suit in federal court on behalf of her daughter Jamii who was only 15 years old at the time of the incident in 2019. The lawsuit claims the officers violated Jamii’s Fourth Amendment rights, as well as state laws and TSA’s own policies.
The officers allegedly detained Jamii after she passed through a body scanner which produced a ‘false positive’ for a possible concealed weapon. The ‘false positive’ was in fact Jamii’s genitalia that she was born with.
Jamii was asked to subject herself to an intimate physical examination in a private room. The lawsuit claims the officers “advised Jamii that she was not free to leave until she submitted to such a search.”
Mother and daughter refused to consent to the search which resulted in law enforcement being called and triggering Jamii to suffer from “panic, anxiety, fear, racing heart, (and) shortness of breath.”
In the end, Kimberley rented a car and drove the 600-mile journey to New York rather than let her daughter be subjected to a genital examination. The lawsuit claims Jamii has been able to get on a plane ever since because of the “recurring emotional distress” that the incident has caused.
The ‘false positive’ result was due to the way that advanced body scanners “auto-detect potential threats” by using software that looks at the anatomy of men and women differently. When someone walks into the body scanner, the TSA officers have to press a ‘male’ or ‘female’ button based on how the passenger presents themself.
When the scanner detects anatomy that it doesn’t think should be there, the software thinks there might be a concealed weapon and direct officers to conduct a physical search.
“Additional screening is conducted to determine whether a prohibited item is present,” the TSA’s website explains.
Transgender passengers may, however, refused to go through the body scanner and can request a pat-down search instead. Paty-down searches are conducted by an officer of the same gender as the how the passenger presents themself.
“TSA recognizes the concerns that some members of the transgender community may have with certain security screening procedures at the nation’s security checkpoints,” the agency says on its website.
“TSA is committed to ensuring all travelers are treated with respect and courtesy. Screening is conducted without regard to a person’s race, color, sex, gender identity, national origin, religion or disability.”
In Jamii’s case, the lawsuit claims she told the operator she was transgender but officers refused to do the scan again.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.