TSA plan could make travel particularly unsafe for some

A proposal to collect travelers' birth dates and genders could add to travel hassles for many and poses a particular challenge for transgender folks, whose legal gender is not always as simple as "M" or "F."

Major air carriers are opposing a Transportation Security Administration plan to collect the birth dates and genders of airplane travelers, along with their full names, saying the added data collection will create needless hassles.

While the new data collection could add to the annoyance of air travel for the masses of air passengers, the move would pose a special challenge for those of us for whom the question of gender is more complicated than checking one of the two boxes.

Now, I fly a lot. And while some people may see me as female, and others as male, the fact of the matter is that almost no one looks at the gender written on my driver's license. It's there, but right now, the only time it is being checked is when a screener double-checks that the name matches the one on the ticket. Besides, most people use their eyes to determine gender and only if they are particularly confused, will they look at such documentation.

But adding gender to the screening process is bound to make life difficult for many transgender people. Within the transgender community are people who appear opposite their legal gender, but haven't--or can't--change their legal gender.

In some states, a legal gender change is a relatively straightforward process, while other states demand proof of medical intervention such as surgery or hormones, options that many transgender people cannot afford and some would just rather not pursue. A few states, such as Ohio, where I was born, won't let someone change their birth certificate at all, no matter what steps they take. Federal agencies like the Passport Agency and the Social Security Administration have their own rules, which can be more stringent than state rules. So that means some people may have a drivers license that says male, but a passport that says female, or vice versa.

I'm all for making the skies safer, but security for all should not come at the expense of making an already vulnerable group even more likely to be singled out for harassment. I hope that, in addition to making sure the benefits of any changes outweigh the costs and hassles, that the TSA privacy folks also looks into making sure that the system provides for the safety of those of us with complicated genders.

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