Ignorance, insensitivity at play when transgender passenger forced to remove prosthetic penis


Security personnel at American Airlines screen a passenger prior to boarding, Tuesday, August 13, 2002, at Kansas City International Airport in Kansas City, Missouri.

A passenger was getting ready to board a flight in Australia when he was told by airport security to remove “that thing”; that thing was his penis. Impossible? Here is the twist: he was a transgender man and his penis was prosthetic. This is an outstanding infringement upon individual privacy and there needs to be a change in these “routine procedures.”

The transgender passenger was left feeling “demeaned” and obviously humiliated as it would be for anyone who was told to give up something so private for security scanning. In the beginning, the unnamed man was subjected to a full-body screening as we all do when we go to the airport with the infamous arms above your head space-ship shenanigans but the situation quickly escalated to into an ordeal that most of us will never experience.

On top of that uncomfortability alone, the staff member reportedly put on two pairs of gloves to handle the penis after reportedly saying, “You want me to touch that thing with my bare hands?”

This incident was brought to light when the passenger made a complaint through the National LGBTI Health Alliance. The National Peak Health Organization in Australia said the incident was an example of a “climate of pervasive discrimination against LGBTI populations,” in airport security.

“Not only did this make me feel incredibly uneasy and anxious, it was demeaning and unnecessary.”

The unnamed man said that after being taken to a private room for the search, he was then forced to put the prosthetic back in his underwear with two officers watching him.

In a later statement, the man said the supervisor had “no regard for him as a human being” and felt like he was “treated as a criminal from the beginning.”

While it is important to be thorough in airport security, there needs to be a certain level of respect without violation to one’s privacy – literally. Reports of negative airport experiences received by Australia’s peak body for intersex people, Organisation Intersex International Australia (OII), were also included in the submission.

“A close friend whose appearance is somewhat ambiguous was subjected to unnecessary treatment by staff unsure of her gender, including inappropriate remarks and questioning her gender,” one OII member said.

People also face problems if they have an X (unspecified) sex marker on their passports – a third option along with M (male) and F (female). Various LGBTI groups reported that holders of X passports experienced logistical difficulties with booking flights, not being able to use the “smart gate” at immigration and encountering staff unfamiliar with the marker.

National LGBTI Health Alliance called for all companies working in airport security to adopt provisions to avoid further discrimination and mistreatment of LGBTI people.

It is difficult enough to be transgender in this world with everyday ignorant scrutiny let alone with the judgement from those who are supposed to be protecting us – not humiliating us.

There is no news yet on whether the airport security officers will be subject to an investigation or be penalized. However, they need to be informed that this kind of search was in fact an infringement upon an individual’s rights and they need to be held to a certain account for the man’s humiliation.

No person should have had to go through this and it should never happen again. There needs to be an open discussion on what we can do to keep security protected without objectifying and demeaning the LGBTQ family in such an inappropriate way.