Trans woman Takes On TSA Over Termination And Wins

Last year, I wrote a blog post (“A Transfeminist Critique Of The TSA/Opting Out”) about the inherent transphobia of the Transportation Security Administration. While it continues to oppress transgender people on a systemic level, I’m glad to see that just recently, the TSA settled with a transgender employee who was fired after being forced into the wrong gender role.

Meet Ashley Yang, a 29 year-old trans woman from Southern California. She, like many people who are lucky enough to have a job in these economic times, just wanted to transition in peace and demand accommodations that are not only more than reasonable—but also mandated by law.

And here is what she got in return for being a good and committed employee:

[Her] behavior was apparently not acceptable to managers in Los Angeles International Airport. In order to keep her job as a security checkpoint screener, managers allegedly forced her to cut her hair and dress as a man, citing the fact that she had not had physical surgery to change her sexual identity. However, California recognizes her as a woman on her driver’s license.

Yang reportedly received verbal harassment from passengers, recognizing her still-feminine appearance and saying comments such as “I haven’t had a girl touch me for a long time.”

When she complained to her supervisors, saying their treatment constituted sex discrimination, they fired her. She had been working at LAX for two years.

However, there is another reason she may have been fired:

Ashley Yang, 29, who spent two years as a security checkpoint screener at LAX, was fired last summer after co-workers observed her using the women’s room, according to a copy of her termination letter obtained by The Associated Press.

The latter reality is something that is way too close to my heart. Sometimes nature calls, and the last thing one wants to think about is whether they will get in trouble for using the “wrong restroom.” It is something that affects all trans people of all classes and walks of life.

What may even be more blatantly egregious about the TSA’s behavior is that Ms. Yang is extremely passable and had been on hormones since 2006, 2 years BEFORE she began work with the TSA; her transgender history was only revealed after a pre-employment background check (understandable for a position like this). But, passable or not, she should not have been forced into a gender role that she was trying to shed. On their end, the agency had reminded her that agents had to be the same gender as the passengers they search and had asked her whether she had gone through sex reassignment surgery (which she had not).

Does the TSA not realize that by forcing Ashley to out herself (via forcing her to pat-down men and to use the men’s room) they are endangering its employee’s life? Sure, airports are supposed to be a highly secure area, but I don’t think that would prevent some transphobic rageaholic who believes that someone’s gender is their business from using their fists or other potential weapons lying around. Or maybe some bigot who had discovered her history could come back and assault or kill her.

CBS also reports:

A TSA screening director said her behavior constituted a failure “to comply with the instructions given to you by management.”

This is one of those moments where one cannot healthily just “follow orders.” True — these weren’t orders to commit genocide — but that does not mean that forcing a person to follow orders which would be detrimental to their well-being should be the norm.

The matter was settled, and as part of said settlement, Ms. Yang will receive a five-figure award on top of 5 months back pay and TSA agents will be receiving mandatory sensitivity training. With this comes the realization that Ms. Yang is a trailblazer who, through her hardship, was able to make life a bit easier for all those that come after (pending the audit and completion of such sensitivity training). According to the LA Weekly, there was no clear cut policy for determining the gender of their employees.

But there is still work to be done in terms of federal issues. In the CBS article above, Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense And Education Fund discusses how uneven the federal government is in recognizing transgender rights. While federal agencies have been advised by the U.S. Office For Personnel Management that office dress codes should not prevent people from dressing in accordance with their gender identity and the surgical threshold for passport gender markers has been removed, the Social Security Administration still requires that surgery be performed in order to receive a new gender marker (though gender does not show up on Social Security cards, it still is an annoyance). We are in a time of social change, and each blow against archaic gender roles and the surgical threshold helps us move forward towards full equality.

-Jordan Gwendolyn Davis

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