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TSA agent wants to pat down women

August 21, 2011

This transgendered former airport screener considers herself a woman, she has long, highlighted hair and pops hormones to look like a lady.

Yet Ashley Yang was ordered by her former bosses at the Transportation Security Administration to pat down male passengers, pin her locks in a bun, dress like a man and use the men’s restroom. When she objected, she was fired, according to a termination letter.

“Ashley lives her life as a woman. Her co-workers recognized her as a woman. Passengers recognized her as a woman.”But her employers didn’t,” said Kristina Wertz, an attorney for the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco, which helped Yang file a civil rights complaint following her dismissal.

Now the TSA is doing some serious back-pedaling on the formerly intransigent
stance it took on Yang’s gender identity.All TSA managers at Los Angeles International Airport, where Yang once worked, must undergo mandatory sensitivity training, officials said.

Yang has scored a five months backed pay and a five-figure settlement with the agency for pain and suffering after the ordeal.

“It’s part of the world we live in today,” said Nico Melendez, a TSA spokesperson. “We need to be aware of transgender issues not only for our co-workers, but for passengers.”

The Los Angeles airport, with a staff of 2,500 security officers, has as many as 100 managers, according to Melendez.
When she showed up for TSA training, Yang (above, at LAX) was told that according to TSA regulations she would have to pat down men and was offered a position working with baggage. She insisted that part of the job’s appeal was working with people.

She was then told she would have to cut her long, highlighted hair, follow the dress code for male agents and use the men’s bathroom, she said. She obtained permission to wear a wig instead, but was told to buy one with “a more male look.”

Yang said she settled on a short Afro, but passengers and co-workers weren’t convinced. Because of her feminine appearance, she sometimes received inappropriate comments from men who were surprised to find a woman frisking them, Yang claimed.

She said men made comments like, “I haven’t had a girl touch me for a long time,” or, “Does this mean you are going to buy me dinner?”

Agents who did not know she was transgender would call her over to search women. After management became concerned that hair length requirements would violate the rights of some religions adherents, she was allowed to wear her hair in a bun.

The accomodations reached between TSA and Yang reflects an expanding and unsettled frontier in employment and civil rights law, said Michael Silverman, executive director of the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“The notion that every transgender person needs or wants surgery in order to fully transition is simply incorrect,” Silverman said.

“Different people require different levels of surgical intervention and different types of surgical intervention. There is no one size fits all of what is going to be prescribed and it should be very clear that for some people, it’s going to be no surgery at all,” he said.

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