Woman's airport scanner experience highlights the importance of transgender training

Rose Montoya was flying from Phoenix to Los Angeles when she passed through the TSA screeners, as all air travelers are required to do. However, her security screening experience was problematic in ways that people who aren't transgender might not ever think about.

Montoya's video about her experience on TikTok has drawn millions of views, as she explains the issues she runs into with TSA scanners and agents who don't have the experience or training to process transgender people's security screenings in a respectful, appropriate manner.

"Going through the scanner, there's a male scanner and a female scanner in the TSA checkpoint," she said. "And, looking at me, you know, I look like a woman and I am a woman. So, that's great. I love having systemic privilege when I feel unsafe, which is in an airport. But, going through the scanner, I always have an 'anomaly' between my legs that sets off the alarm. And so she (the TSA attendant) asked me if I had anything in my pants and I told her 'no' and she's like, 'Well, maybe it's just like the metal on your shorts, so let's scan you again.'"



@rosalynnemontoya We need to change how the scanners function and educate TSA about trans people. ##tsa ##trans ##transgender ##transphobia ##transphobic ##travel
♬ original sound - Rose Montoya

The agent tried again, and again the alarm went off. "So, I was like look, I'm trans," she said. "Just pat me down. And her solution was, 'Do you want to be scanned as a man instead?' I didn't. But, I ended up doing it and then my boobs set off the scanner because, of course. So, I tried to make a joke out of it. I was like, 'Oh yeah, there's a lot of plastic in there! It's fine.' So then she was like, 'OK, well we have to pat you down. Do you want a man to do it?' I said, 'NO! Absolutely not.'"

Montoya explained to Buzzfeed that agents have to make a visual judgment of whether a passenger is male or female before they enter the scanner, which can cause issues for transgender people, especially when a person isn't fully surgically transitioned or is non-binary.

"The scanners at TSA checkpoints are made with only two settings, forcing the TSA agents to make a split-second decision on whether to scan travelers as male or female."

ProPublica did an investigative report on TSA scanners and how screenings impact transgender passengers in 2019, which revealed that the issues Montoya describes are not new. The binary nature of TSA scanners has been a problem for transgender people since they were implemented in 2010, but they aren't the only issue. TSA policy is that patdowns happen by agents that match the presenting gender of a transgender person, but as Montoya's story shows, implementation of policy isn't always consistent. Some transgender people have reported having to strip down and show their genitals to TSA agents, which is invasive, humiliating, and anxiety-producing.

According to the TSA representatives ProPublica spoke to, agents aren't supposed to ask people to—or even let people—take off their clothes to reveal private body parts. However, Peter Neffenger, who served as TSA administrator for the last 18 months of the Obama administration, told ProPublica that he wouldn't be surprised if it happened. The TSA is a huge organization and turnover is quite high, he said, so keeping people trained properly presents a challenge.

Neffenger also understood the anxiety the gendered scanners brought on.

"As many in the transgender community explained to me, it's one of the most stressful parts of the screening process for them," he said.

It's not unusual for transgender people to be treated with disdain or disgust, to be asked disrespectful questions, or to be touched inappropriately. When such treatment happens in public and comes from the hands of officials who have control over whether or not you're allowed to get on an airplane, it can be particularly traumatic. One transgender man ProPublica spoke to said his experience—in which two male TSA agents had him remove his binder and lifted each of his breasts with their hands—kept him from flying for five years. After a transgender woman was refused a patdown by female agents, two male agents took her to a private room and had her take off her leggings to show her genitals. And the screening took so long she missed her flight.

The TSA began a training program for helping transgender passengers through the screening process in February of 2019, but ProPublica wasn't able to review it. And again, training 65,000 employees, some of whom are undoubtedly undereducated and underexposed to transgender people in their own lives, is a challenge. Something definitely needs to change, though, if transgender people can't go through the airport security process without feeling anxious due to how their bodies are going to be processed.

Montoya tried to look at the bright side of her Phoenix airport encounter, pointing out that she at least had paperwork that showed her gender and name correctly and how traveling as a transgender person used to be even worse.

"Afterwards, I took a deep breath, grabbed my things and bought myself a cookie butter latte and a snack," she told Buzzfeed. "I felt dysphoric and disrespected, but remembered how much worse this experience used to be. I FaceTimed my boyfriend, who listened to my story and calmed me down."

She also said that she'd been approached by representatives from the TSA asking how they can do better, and she's scheduled to meet with them today.

Here's hoping some progress comes from Montoya's viral story and that all people, regardless of gender, can travel without unnecessary embarrassment or hardship.

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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