TSA Sued for Asking Child to Remove Pants to “Feel” Her Genitals

Transgender Pride FlagJamii Erway is a 16-year-old girl in North Carolina who is used to getting false alarms when she goes through TSA body scanners. The reason is that Jamii is transgender — she was born male and now lives as a young woman — and the TSA screener operating a body scanner must press a “Male” or “Female” button for each passenger.  If the operator presses “Female,” the machine will alarm if the traveler has external genitals.  If the operator presses “Male,” the machine will alarm they are wearing a bra.  (And, well, if you have a penis while wearing a bra, the machine will alarm no matter which button is pushed.)

I can only imagine that dealing with transitioning genders as a teenager is an extraordinarily difficult experience even without having to deal with the TSA.

TSA standard procedure for when the body scanner alarms on the “groin area” is that a quick pat-down using the back of the screener’s hands is done at the checkpoint to ensure that the traveler is not in possession of any prohibited items, as Jamii had experienced several times before.  But, when triggering the scanner last May at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, a confused scanner operator called over a supervisor who decided to invent a new procedure for transgender travelers: she told Jamii she must go to a private room, expose herself, and let her “feel up in there.”  That is, a TSA supervisor demanded to molest a child.  When Jamii’s mother, traveling with her, attempted to intervene, the supervisor told the mother to “mind her business” before trying to recruit her to pressure Jamii into submitting to the “search.”

TSA policies prohibit checkpoint screeners (and supervisors) from conducting strip searches (even though they continue to happen at the hands of “rogue” screeners, knowing that they are unlikely to face discipline).  Police and high-level TSA managers were called thanks to a mother unwilling to bend under pressure from a blue-shirted thug, and when police refused to back the search, Jamii and mother left the airport and drove 600 miles to their destination.

As best we can tell, neither the police nor TSA management took any action against the supervisor who wanted to violate Jamii — so on Monday I filed suit on behalf of Jamii in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.  The actions of the TSA here disgust me more than usual given that this is my first case on behalf of a child, and given the apparent discriminatory motivation.  I look forward to obtaining some justice for my clients and hopefully sending a message that transgender people are not second-class citizens while flying.

Erway v. TSA – Complaint (.pdf)

24 thoughts on “TSA Sued for Asking Child to Remove Pants to “Feel” Her Genitals

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  1. «The reason is that Jamii is transgender — she was born male and now lives as a young woman…»

      In other words, “she” is a boy, not a girl.  Not that this is any excuse for the sick TSA perverts to be sexually assaulting or molesting anyone, but it is quite understandable that they would be confused and suspicious when their scanners reveal that a “girl” has male genitalia.

    1. The scanner as far as I’m aware doesn’t show a picture anymore (for good reasons, especially when it comes to children). It just alerts if something doesn’t match the template chosen, because an unexpected object under the clothes could be contraband. In the above case, the scanner likely would have alerted no matter what the operator chose (male or female), as the article notes. What they should have done when that occurred was at most a clinical back-of-the-hand pat-down in a private room (which is as far as I know closer to what normally occurs when something on your body is flagged by the scanner), not ordering the poor girl be strip-searched. Moreover, this should be the kind of thing they train TSA agents on, because trans people exist, as do intersex people and people with medical conditions that require equipment attached to their bodies under their clothing, and treating them like potential terrorists, much trying to sexually assault them, is just crappy as hell.

  2. I’m surprised that after investigating the issue and writing up a lawsuit, you still used the incorrect term “transgendered” in a legal document.

  3. Why do we even have male & female patterns? If the machine can’t tell anatomy from contraband it’s not going to be useful even if it knows your gender–nothing says you can’t have both anatomy and contraband.

  4. I don’t think my comment posted this time, but I’d really like to get this one off my chest if you can help put it up: Damn but this is rough. Unreal. And some of the comments under here too.

    People get confused about male vs. female patterns because they’re uneducated, not because there’s something wrong with a non-binary person. Believe me, it is seriously common for anatomy to be less than definitive when it comes to gender–about 1 in 1,000 cases. And because of uneducated people, parents often make the horrifying decision to surgically alter a person’s genitals to match their vision of what they think they should look like, even though it very frequently leads to worse damage and the inability to have an orgasm…ever.

    This will stop in our lifetimes. People are finally learning the truth–that gender is both physiologically and biologically varied beyond the binary paradigm that has been artificially forced on humanity by society.

    Now, as to the TSA screeners, I find it amusing that we still argue about how to make the screenings more effective in the identification of human anatomy instead of arguing what a violation of our rights they are.

    Even conservatives who say they are Constitution-thumping freedom lovers will get caught up in the whole discussion about how those machines are supposed to assess non-binary genitals.


    If the airlines want to keep this gestapo crap up over an incident that we all know is bullshit (they did NOT take over four airliners with boxcutters, I’m a grandmother and I would have kicked their asses if they only had boxcutters), stop using them and bring back the fine tradition of the road trip. $$ talks, bullshit walks. Starve the airlines till they demand the end of the TSA. Meanwhile, rock on Johnathan. We can sue the shit out of them too. The TSA is chock full of deviants and child molesters. Just 50 years ago, they would have gotten way harsher treatment than a lawsuit. “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” ~Dr. Robert Schuller

    1. “The TSA is chock full of deviants and child molesters” is an embecilic remark with neither documented proof nor reasonable theory. Obviously, you fall into the non binary category of individuals who have been throwing such a fit with EVERYONE else because they fail to recognize your inability to choose male or female presentation. Its not everyone elses requirement to recognize your non binary presentation just because you have severe emotional and socio/identity issues. Deal with it. And choose a gender for Christ sake! The TSA officers have a thankless job which requires them to ensure that selfish, self-centered, confused people like you get to point B all in one piece. Calling them names and judging their character by virtue of their profession is a slap in the face to every person that wears the blue shirt. They are parents, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons and grandparents just like you. Don’t flap your vile mouth unless you know what the hell you’re talking about.

      1. Mike Masters you object to the statement that “The TSA is chock full of deviants and child molesters”. The statement is demonstrably, objectively true. People who work for the TSA take money and agree to touch the genitalia of unwilling victims, both underage and adult. This is a depraved, deviant action. Shame on anyone who agrees to touch people’s sexual areas against their will, fondling genitals through their clothes, especially touching the genitals of children. How dare you? No decent human being would work for such a deviant agency, nor take money to molest children. I’ve been sexually assaulted by TSA employees on more than one occasion; I’ve taken the crimes to the police and to my Congressional representatives. We know what you do. Don’t try to deny it.

    2. Also, Deb….you’re quoting Dr. Robert Schuller who, if he were alive today, would call your pathetic fallacy about gender being artificially forced on humanity by society as utter bullshit and the work of the devil himself. If you really want to represent as non binary, that is your choice, but society is not changing mother nature and the universe just for you. Sorry

      1. @Mike Masters Sorry, but binary (in any aspect, not just gender) is simply not how nature works. The lines always get a bit blurred, the only question is how much blurring there is. In the past we swept such cases under the rug, now we are recognizing that they happen.

        A couple of blurred lines where we understand what is going on:

        What about the XY women that are walking around in large numbers? (Mutation: Testosterone doesn’t androgenize them) It’s usually only discovered if the female bits don’t work as well as they should. (More than just the 25% of completely non-viable YY conceptions.) They used to think it was very rare until they tried to use genetic testing to weed out males competing as females.

        Or what about the really wacky ones: Born basically female, turn male at puberty. (Mutation: The form of testosterone that is produced during fetal development doesn’t androgenize, but normal testosterone does.) That one is much rarer.

    3. @Deb Tharp They were able to take over the planes with box cutters because at the time the normal approach to hijacking was do what the hijackers wanted, get the plane on the ground and resolve it there. 9/11 was the first suicide hijacking, it wasn’t something we expected. Now people will resist any attempt to access the flight deck even if the hijackers have guns.

  5. What a fucking bullshit situation. My heart breaks for that girl. She probably doesn’t even have the money for a sex change yet, and that stuff can seriously make someone feel self concious. Not to mention… HOW FUCKING NASTY AND PERVERTED THAT IS WHAT THE HELL??? You’re asking a CHILD to feel up there. Really?? I know I don’t need to tell you the author what’s wrong with that, but holy shit. I’m cis so I know I’ll never experience that type of discrimination in that form, but I have had negative sexual experiences as a child so I know exactly how damaging that shit is. Thank you so much for filing a report. Please. Be a goddamn pest to that company. Make sure they look into that, because that is beyond disgusting. And maybe that TSA worker needs to be looked into for pedophilic behavior, too. I’m sorry this post is long, but that makes me so angry to hear. I hope they didn’t let that experience ruin their trip.

  6. Literally these scanners are such BS and alert on any little thing. My spine juts out very visibly and so the scanners always flag it meaning I have to get a pat down every time I’m at the airport. It pisses me off that they can’t tell the difference between anatomy and contraband and that stories like this are all too common

  7. The comments about the TSA are laughable spoken by people who have know idea what they do and really don’t care because they are self righteous ignorant fools who have allowed their own mental issues to cloud their perception of the world where everyone is oppressed and everyone in the world owes them something. Grow up I’ll let you all know the next time I pull a gun out of someone’s bag who ahh forgot they had it or the switchblade that showed up in someone’s ass or the five muslim guys in there twenties two weeks apart on the same flight out my city acting exactly the same way both times probing the system. TSA is not perfect but it’s a pleasure protecting people like you all from your plane going down. Cheers

  8. @bill thoma it’s always very interesting how people like you claim other people know nothing, when you know even less. It’s also very fascinating how people like you bring up mental issues and resort to being toxic. Seems like you’re just self projecting your own instabilities and flaws onto others.

  9. That is the reason I don’t want to work anything that has to deal with close contact. police officer, correctional officer etc. They don’t get paid shit and take great heat. I respect the people that work the field but I just think it is too much conflict. I graduated with a criminal justice degree and I regret it 50% now i work in construction more money and way less headache. I just advice to people that that don’t want to deal with the system to pick up a degree or a career in something technical.

  10. I’m pretty sure a lot of the quoted statements by the officer weren’t verbatim. TSA doesn’t “feel up there” and for a lot of you that doesn’t know, if an officer feels something on someone’s body, it needs to be verified. Social engineering is a real thing. You can say you have a penis in your pants and for all they know there could be an explosive device there but y’all would rather the TSA just let them go. That’s why the management and police didn’t do anything and the passengers ended up driving 600 miles to their destination. You aren’t forced to be screened. You can either comply and take your flight, or leave the airport and find another way to get to where you need to go.

  11. As an officer, it’s a very difficult task we take on everyday. This State of Emergency has us on edge. In this case the situation was handle wrong. It was a lack of communication here, which is why I strongly recommend better customer service training. The wording used was inappropriate. We all know common sense is not common. Its various way to resolve alarms without violating people, I know this first hand. No pun intended. I wish, I could be placed in charge of customer service training to help in prevent this from happening again. May God Bless us all.

  12. In this day and age I do not understand why the screener was so “confused”. You’d think that he would’ve gotten some clue and possibly asked Jamii a question that would have settled the confusion. He then should have done his normal pat down and sent them on their way. For the “curious” supervisor who felt she needed to reveal and touch Jamii’s genitalia, she’s a pervert plain and simple. And for her to tell the mother to mind her business and then try to recruit her in playing along. WOW! First of all, Jamii is her business and kudos to Mom for NOT backing down. I hope that those agents lose their jobs and that Jamii is awarded a large settlement.

  13. I work for TSA and I only had to get to the part about having a penis and wearing a bra no matter what button you push it will show an anomoly. Not even true, if I am not sure and I see a manly looking woman I can discreetly hit the male button the person gets a green screen. If I see a female that is identifying as a male and clearly has boobs i can hit the female button to get a green screen. We like to avoid pat downs too contrary to popular belief. If youre transgender and you are at the airport tell the screener i identify as a … but please select the gender button Im not identifying as in order to eliminate the alarm that will surely pop up if you press the female button when I have male parts or vice versa. Its not that big of a deal we are trained that we have many types of travelers come thru. As a transgender its gonna be a part of your life that u dont like but you can make it smoother at the airport. You dont have to do any of that but if you get an alarm you will get a pat down.

    1. Barbara, I’m struggling to see your point, given that even if the wrong button was pressed and the scanner alarmed, the *correct* procedure was a brief pat-down at the checkpoint, but the *requested* procedure was the strip-search and molestation of a child. These screeners/managers fucked up here, big time, and the child is not to blame.

  14. The bottom line here is that TSO’s are here to Protect the flying public. It is our job to make sure we are not allowing any threats get by us. That situation could have been dealt with a better way, however I feel that we ALL shouldn’t be placed in the same box as far as the few that mess up. We Are Important!!! Remember 911 when you attempt to assassinate our characters.

  15. This just goes to show how messed up United States really is first of all a 16 year old is a young adult not a child so stop using that word child yes TSA is evil I was 20 years old when I help creat the TSA and most of the airports back in 2002 however this nation is going to fall we’re the only nation in the world complaining about such silly things that don’t matter it’s obvious that the messed up teenager has no business being a boy wearing girls clothes in the first place and that’s not the fault of the TSA agents that’s the fault of his parents for having him we cannot cater to messed up people and then turn around and blame people for doing their jobs nor can we stop the whole world because of mentally ill demons that’s what they are demons that think they can inhabit these bodies and change things around everybody knows female wears female clothes males wear Males clothes. USA will be destroyed people by the viruses and economic collapse and they have the nerve to post this stupid story burn in hell.

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