Trans Teen Sues TSA for Illegal Strip-Search

Trans Teen Sues TSA for Illegal Strip-Search

09.09.21
Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
09.09.21

A trans teen is suing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and one of its employees after allegedly being subjected to an illegal strip-search.

A complaint filed in North Carolina alleges that the TSA and an anonymous employee violated Jamii Erway’s constitutional rights and intentionally inflicted emotional distress in a 2019 incient when she was 15 years old, according to Them.us.

“The mere threat of forcing one to submit to a strip search and manual manipulation of one’s genitals … is sufficient to cause severe emotional distress in ordinary people,” the complaint read.

Erway claims that she was stopped while going through airport security at Religh-Durham International Airport after a body scanner allegedly detected an “anomaly” on her groin, which is common for trans and gender-nonconforming people.

Erway said she informed airport security that she is trans, but the operator allegedly declined to re-scan her and called over a supervisor, who is a defendant named Jane Doe in the suit. That’s when Doe told Erway she needed to take her to a private room to ”feel up in there,” according to the suit. Doe said Erway would not be allowed to leave the checkpoint until she complied with the request. 

The TSA employee instructed Erway’s mother, Kimberly, to force her child to comply with the strip-search, according to the suit. She refused. She and her daughter decided to rent a car and drive over 600 miles to return home.

Erway’s attorney, Jonathan Corbett, said in an interview with The News & Observer that the TSA violated its own guidelines, noting that agents are not allowed to “demand a child – or anyone else – to expose their genitals.” 

“This appears to be a failure of training and supervision, and we have no indication that they have improved since the incident,” Corbett said.

Research shows that mistreatment of trans travelers has been a rampant issue for the TSA. Around 5% of civil rights complaints against the agency from January 2016 to April 2019 were related to screenings of transgender people, according to ProPublica. That figure does not include when formal complaints were not filed. 

Trans people and their allies have been calling for a change in the TSA screening system for years. In 2020, U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) introduced a bill intended to make flying for trans people easier. The legislation, which has yet to pass, directs the agency to develop protocols to make screenings safe and smoother for both trans people and people with religious headdress.