LOS ANGELES—Considering the number of movies made in the City of Angels that involve transsexuals, not to mention the growing number of residents who've taken the cross-gender plunge, it seems only proper that agents of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at Los Angeles International Airport should be aware of some do's and don't's when ushering the t-gals through the security process—especially since at least one agent is transgendered herself.
But they didn't—at least back in 2009, when transgendered agent Ashley Yang was fired from her TSA job as a security checkpoint screener—a job she'd held for two years. Yang had begun hormone treatments to begin living as a woman more than two years earlier, and she later stated that the person who interviewed her for the TSA job didn't doubt that she was female. Besides, it said so on her California driver's license. Still, Yang made no secret of her change in gender status with the TSA, informing them that she was transgendered even before their background check on her was performed.
But once she was hired, problems arose. According to the TSA, it was set-in-stone policy that agents could only search passengers of their own gender, and since Yang hadn't undergone sex-reassignment surgery, they wanted her to work searching baggage, but Yang made it clear that wasn't what she'd signed up for.
The agency also wanted her to "man up," in the sense that they wanted her to cut her long hair, dress like a man and use the men's restroom. However, when she did search men, she sometimes got sexist comments for her feminine appearance—one said, "I haven't had a girl touch me for a long time," while another asked, "Does this mean you're going to buy me dinner?"—while some agents who didn't know her status would sometimes call her over to search women.
Then, after some of her cow-orkers noticed that she was using the women's restroom, her termination notice quickly followed.
Yang wasn't about to take the insult lying down, however, so she filed a grievance over the firing, which resulted in a settlement that should make it easier for trannies to pass through airport security.
"Ashley lives her life as a woman," noted attorney Kristina Wertz of the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco, which helped Yang file her civil rights complaint. "Her co-workers recognized her as a woman. Passengers recognized her as a woman. But her employer didn't. She was asked to hide who she was just in order to earn a living."
The settlement will cause LAX's 2,500 security officers and 100 managers to undergo sensitivity training, which was begun in May and is ongoing, though the details of the training were not disclosed.
Yang and other transgenders will be helped by the fact that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has recently issued guidelines that state, for instance, that "dress codes should not be used to prevent a transgender employee from living full-time in the role consistent with his or her gender identity," and provide that transgendered employees don't need to provide proof of reassignment surgery to use the restroom that best fits his/her persona.
Considering the size of L.A.'s transgendered population, that's bound to be a welcome relief.
(Pictured: Joanna Jett and Brittany St. Jordan)