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Recent Posts

  • “In a Country with Billboards Covered in Tits”: Breastfeeding in Public Spoken Word Strikes Chord
  • Breast Pumps in Jail: Kudos to Taos!
  • What Does A Feminist Mother Look Like? Part 3
  • Milk-Sharing: Safe Infant Feeding and Being A Human
  • Oh Dear, Bad West Virginia Breastfeeding Bill Might Pass This Time

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Wordless Wednesday: Breastfeeding in Disaster

I saw this painful photograph in a museum in Los Alamos, New Mexico, birthplace of the bomb that the U.S. dropped on this woman and her children in Nagasaki, Japan. Karleen Gribble shared both this copy of the photo with me and this article about what happened to the mom and her children.

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Will Nebraska Finally Get A Public Breastfeeding Law? Will it Matter?

Only three U.S. states have no public breastfeeding law – West Virginia, Idaho and Nebraska. Unfortunately the majority of state public breastfeeding laws don’t do a particularly good job of stopping harassment of women who breastfeed in public (this is where I tell you again to go read my feature in Mothering magazine called Lactation and the Law, remind you that “a right without a remedy is no right at all,” and tell you I have an update feature on U.S. breastfeeding law coming out in Mothering in probably the May/June issue).

On January 7th, Legislative Bill 197 was introduced in the Nebraska Legislature. The text is:

Section 1. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breast-feed her child in any public or private location where the mother is otherwise authorized to be.

Introduced by State Senator Annette Dubas, it does not appear this bill, if passed, would confer any right, enforceable or otherwise. As written, this is a permission law. Women may breastfeeding in public and, it seems, other people may interfere with her ability to do that by telling her to leave or cover up. And it doesn’t appear there is anything the nursing woman would be able to do about it.

Since breastfeeding in public is not currently illegal in Nebraska, one must wonder why women need permission. They don’t. They need protection. And this bill doesn’t give protection.

Senator Dubas may not understand this is how public breastfeeding laws work. And it may be helpful if Nebraskans tell her what kind of public breastfeeding law Nebraska really needs.

Are you a Nebraskan? Have you nursed in public? Can you contact Senator Dubas, the bill’s co-sponsors and your own state senator and let them know Nebraska needs a public breastfeeding law that will really protect a right to breastfeed in public?

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“The Talk” on Breastfeeding and The New Federal Workplace Pumping Law

The latest “sorta famous women sitting in a semi-circle talking about things they know little about” daytime show is called “The Talk.” You probably know lots more about it then I do. It looks like “The View” which I have seen only in clips – the clips that arrive couched in “can you believe [insert semi-famous women I probably have never heard of] said this about breastfeeding!” outrage. Barbara Walters’ comments in 2005 on not wanting to sit next to a woman breastfeeding on a plane is probably the most famous and led to protests outside the network studios. I think Babs learned her lesson. Personally, my favorite part of that whole incident was Jimmy Kimmel’s take on it:

Well, “The Talk” is clearly handling discussion of breastfeeding very differently. Thanks much to the great Karen Gromada for giving me a “heads-up” on this clip.

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Tennessee Legislature Considering Eliminating 12 Month Limitation in Public Breastfeeding Law

Since its passage in 2006, Tennessee’s public breastfeeding law has been trouble. It reads:

68-58-101. Right to breastfeed in any location. —

A mother has a right to breastfeed her child who is twelve (12) months of age or younger in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be present.

The only state breastfeeding law with an age limit, Tennessee’s statute isn’t just problematic because it reserves whatever protection it might provide to children twelve months or younger. It also creates the possibility that public breastfeeding of a child older than twelve months is unlawful in some way.

Breastfeeding in public is legal in every state. However, it is not protected in every state. Most U.S. states now have some law stating that a woman may breastfeed in public. However, women continue to be harassed and evicted from public space when they do. That is why state breastfeeding laws must have enforcement provisions – a legal recourse available to women who have been prevented from breastfeeding in public space.

Tennessee’s public breastfeeding law doesn’t have an enforcement provision. And this continues to be a problem. However, placing an age limit on the provision of the health code I quote above both creates the possibility that a store owner or police officer will assume public breastfeeding of children over twelve months is illegal but also creates a fear among women that they aren’t legally allowed to breastfeed older children in public.

A bill has been introduced in the Tennessee state Senate that would resolve one of these issues. Senate Bill 0083 states:

BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE:
SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 68-58-101, is amended by deleting
the language “who is twelve (12) months of age or younger” in its entirety.
SECTION 2. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 39-13-511(d), is amended by
deleting the language “who is twelve (12) months of age or younger” in its entirety.
SECTION 3. This act shall take effect July 1, 2011, the public welfare requiring it.

Introduced this month by state Senator Mike Faulk, I haven’t seen much press on this bill. If you live in Tennessee, it is important you contact Senator Faulk’s office and find out what support this bill needs. While you are in touch with his office, adding that Tennessee’s public breastfeeding law needs an enforcement provision as well would help bring attention to this problem. But eliminating the age limitation is urgent and long overdue.

I’d love to hear from anyone in Tennessee who has had experience with this law or who can share her experience nursing in public. Are you a nursing Tennessean?

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West Virginia’s Pending Breastfeeding Bills: I Have Good News and I Have Bad News

West Virginia is one of only three U.S. states (along with Nebraska and Idaho) that has no law whatsoever protecting breastfeeding. So I was glad to read that this month not one but two bills were introduced in the West Virginia Senate concerning breastfeeding.

Unfortunately, one of the bills could result in a law that helps breastfeeding mothers and the other … well, not so much.

West Virginia Senate Bill Number 80 adds “currently breast feeding mother” to the list of people disqualified from jury duty. If I had my choice I would add breastfeeding mothers to those who can be exempt if they choose and who are given accommodations if they wish (as people with physical disabilities are under current West Virginia law) but if this bill results in getting breastfeeding women out of having to serve on juries when their babies need them or they need to empty their engorged breasts, this is a good thing.

Senate Bill Number 82, a public breastfeeding bill, needs some work. The bill has a “note” attached to it that is not actually part of the law. It states:

The purpose of this bill is to declare a child’s right to nurse and making a statement by the Legislature that nursing in a public place is socially acceptable.

I know this looks good (other than the awkward wording and visceral response I have to a statement that nursing in public is “socially acceptable” – just makes me want to scream “I don’t give a damn if it is socially acceptable!”). Breastfeeding advocates love the idea of a child having a right to nurse. I love it too but it is problematic. Why? Because adults have protected civil rights in the U.S. and children, generally speaking, do not. So the U.S. legal system as it is renders the note empty.

But remember, this is not actually part of what the law would say if it passes. What the law would say is:

ARTICLE 1. STATE PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEM.
§16-1-19. Child’s right to nurse; location where permitted; right protected.
(a) The Legislature finds that breast feeding is an important, basic act of nurturing that is protected in the interests of maternal and child health.
(b) A mother may breast feed a child in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be.

Again, looks good right? But if you have read my other writing on the practical impact of public breastfeeding law, you will know what is wrong with this bill. If a store owner tells a woman she must leave because he doesn’t allow breastfeeding in his store or says only women who cover up can breastfeed, what can the mother legally do? Nothing. This bill contains no mechanism to enforce any “right,” either of a child or of the mother. And, repeat after me, “a right without a remedy is no right at all.”

So what can you do if you are in West Virginia? Have a look at this interview with state Senator Dan Foster, one of the sponsors of both of these bills. He gets it. He understands the importance of breastfeeding, both the health benefits and the economic benefits to the state.

According to this report, Foster anticipates having more difficulty getting the public breastfeeding bill passed than the bill disqualifying breastfeeding women from jury duty. The news report also erroneously states that women would be given a choice of pump accommodations on jury duty. That is actually not in the bill and should be.

So if you are in West Virginia, contact state Senator Dan Foster and tell him what you think of these bills. Let him know similar public breastfeeding laws in other states leave women unprotected because they have no enforcement mechanism. If he says he doesn’t think he can get such a bill passed, pledge your support for a strong law protecting a civil right to breastfeed in public. Tell him you are willing to make phone calls to other state Senators and help him get a strong bill passed.

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We Own a Hobby Farm: Genetically Modified Crops and A Small U.S. Farm

This week the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its decision to deregulate alfalfa that is genetically modified to resist (or not be damaged by) Monsanto’s pesticide Round-Up. Guest Blogger Dee Keith, IBCLC, RLC, is a mother of 10, wife to Larry, home schooling, gardening, earth loving private practice lactation consultant and aspiring flexitarian.

We own a hobby farm. On the five acres surrounding our home we raise small live stock birds, turkeys, chickens (primarily for eggs), ducks. What do we feed them? We buy feed at the local feed store and we avoid the food that contains antibiotics and chemical additives. In warm weather our animals free range and eat the plants and bugs they find on our land.

We also own and lease our other approximately 120 acres of farm land to a tenant farmer. This year we planted non-genetically modified soy beans. These beans bring a higher price per bushel and can be sold to foreign markets because they are NGMO (non-genetically modified organism) crops. What does the rest of the world know that seems to be escaping the USDA? The rest of the world does not want genetically modified food crops in their food stuffs. Science has mixed reviews on what these modified crops do to our health over time, not to mention that the modifications that science labs create would probably never occur in nature. How would soy, for instance, be crossed with cauliflower. Guess what? Soy is crossed with cauliflower so it can be sprayed with Monsanto’s Roundup. If you eat commercially grown soy and you have a food allergy to cauliflower how will that impact your health? How does this impact the nutritional quality of the food?

So for my way of thinking these foods (often referred to as Frankenstein foods) are unproven for long term safety in our bodies. Currently there is no required consumer labeling of these items. When you buy foods you don’t know if the corn in that taco your eating is GMO or not, but it probably is. How does this impact the organic food industry? Organics are a thriving and rapidly growing business in the US. This is one sector of the economy that appears to be doing well.

Alfalfa is often used as a cover crop for wintering fields to prevent erosion. It is also food stuff for animals. What happens when genetically modified alfalfa enters the food chain? How long will it take before non-modified alfalfa is wiped out? When GMO crops are planted they cross pollinate with non-GMO crops and change them to GMO crops. Once introduced there is no way to control the spread of the GMO crop on surrounding fields, plants and animals. Migrating birds eat these crops and can transport these seeds far and wide. Alfalfa is eaten by cattle so the milk they produce will have been touched by the GMO alfalfa. The droppings they leave will be altered. These dropping will be used as fertilizer on fields that are planted.
Our children will eat the cheese and the milk, and the meats from these animals. They will consume the vegetables from the fields; the same fields that have been covered by the alfalfa over the winter. Later the manure from the animals feed the GMO alfalfa will be tilled into that soil.

Family Farmers in this country are being wiped out by large corporations like Monsanto. The growing organic food and farming industry and the public’s desire for clean non-GMO foods are at risk if this GMO Alfalfa is allowed to be put into the food chain.

On our family farm, we grow free range birds for eggs and meat; we grow what we like to think of as an organic garden on the land surrounding our home. We try to buy local and organic when we can. We only have a small family farm, like the rest we could not begin to make enough to support ourselves so we lease out our larger plot of land and let it be farmed by another. We were delighted when we heard that our tenant farmer had planted non-GMO soy beans. There is little to no profit in farming these days and it is more a commitment to the land than a conscious choice. The little good we can do can be quickly wiped out by rain, or lack of it or a big company or even maybe the USDA. Already many countries will not accept our grain shipments because they are GMO grains. The European Union refuses GMO imports. Our soy beans were sold to Japan who wants non-GMO beans. And they can bring on average of a dollar more per bushel. The impact is global.

For more information on the impact of, and fight against, genetically modified crops, see:

Sustainable Agriculture: Produce Food Without Destruction

Greenpeace USA: GMO-Free

Manifest Haiti: Monsanto’s Destiny

WHO Study on Modern Food Biotechnology, Human Health and Development

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Dear John, I Love Jane: A Book Review

Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women is a collection of love stories. Most beautiful, some sad, they are in many ways like any love stories – except before the authors found love with women, they had lived with (and often loved) men.

DearJohnCover In the inspired introduction, editors Candace Walsh and Laura Andre talk about what makes the women in this collection different from those in the few previous works by women who found female partners later in life. Unlike the women in From Wedded Wife to Lesbian Life: Stories of Transformation, and many of my clients at the time I read that book, women who love women are now less likely to lose their children in custody battles, lose their jobs and lose the support of their communities. But sadly some of this loss still occurs and it is in this book. Amanda V. Mead in her essay “This Love is Messy” did lose her public school teaching job in one of the many states that offers no protection from sexual orientation discrimination. A few others lost friends and family. But, more often than not, as Erin Mantz wrote in “Undoing Everything”:

And then it happened: nothing. At least, not to my face. Not yet.

Falling in love with a woman at thirty-nine may have turned my life upside down, but the friends and family all around me are still standing.

There is another difference between Dear John, I Love Jane and other “coming out” stories: many of the women were truly happy in their relationships with men. While there is certainly a good bit of reflection about early attraction to women that the authors suppressed or ignored, few of the authors lived actively closeted lives. They may have taken some time to find what they wanted in their lives, but by and large, when they found it, they pursued it. And some, like Veronica Masen in “Watershed,” stay with their male mates – not as sexual partners but as parenting partners making a happy family though mom is a lesbian.

This is not a collection only to be read by women who are questioning their sexuality or who have been in relationships with both men and women. These stories are about the journeys of women you know. They are about finding out who you really are in the face of culture and family telling you who you are supposed to be. They are about searching for happiness. They are about being honest with yourself and the people you love. These stories are universal. And they are well-written, filled with experiences that are familiar and positive.

“The Right Fit” by Kami Day is haunting. Raised in a strict and insular Mormon family, Day believed what she was taught about the spiritual necessity of marrying the man who was her destiny. When sex was painful and unpleasant, she and her husband ultimately went to a psychiatrist who taught them about sexuality. While this helped Day find sexual pleasure, her relationship with her husband did not improve. Year after year, child after child, Day endured years of obligatory unpleasant sex in a loveless marriage. One would think this was a very sad story, and to me it is. But in Day’s extraordinary essay one sees that in her own assessment of her life, finding your great love when you are forty-four is as wonderful as life can be. She had left a long marriage and the church in which she and her family had lived for generations. But her essay resonates with joy and contentment.

In “Running From the Paper Eye,” Susan White lyrically presents scenes from her life: her mother’s rift with her own lesbian sister blamed on the death of an Easter chick; White’s toddler self-perception she was a boy as her mother jammed her little body into dresses; the perceptive aunt who questions her decision to marry. In introducing the demise of her marriage, she is lovely and stark:

Wes blamed our divorce on the poison oak. Sure, let the plant take the fall. A natural disaster.

Dear John, I Love Jane is fascinating, enlightening and, finally, hopeful. Not every love affair lasts but, in the end, these women are happy with their lives.

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Growing Up with Domestic Violence: Patrick Stewart and Me

I got a fundraising e-mail from Amnesty International the other day. It was from a celebrity, as so many non-profit fundraising e-mails are. But this one really made me stop and look. It was from actor Patrick Stewart and it was about supporting Amnesty International’s campaign concerning violence against women. He wrote:

I know too much about violence against women – as a child I watched in terror as my mother was abused by an angry and unhappy man who could not control his emotions, nor his hands.

and

Amnesty was instrumental in the passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 – signed into law by President Obama in July. This law begins to reverse the alarming rate of sexual violence against Native American and Alaska Native women. Survivors of sexual assault finally stand a real chance of getting a police response, a rape kit and the opportunity to see their case prosecuted.

Amnesty is also a driving force behind the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), which aims to revolutionize the way U.S. foreign policy confronts abuses like domestic violence, rape, honor killings and human trafficking worldwide. If passed, IVAWA will support measures to prevent violence, protect survivors and bring perpetrators to justice.

I knew this about Amnesty International but I didn’t know this about Patrick Stewart. So I did some research and came across this powerful video.

As someone who grew up in a home much like Stewart’s, a good bit of this resonates with me. The first time I dialed 911, I was ten years old. I watched in fury as one police officer after another refused to arrest my step-father. He was walked around the block. He was believed when he said my mother open wounds were the result of a fall. Not only was my step-father never sanctioned in any way for beating my mother, no police officer ever called an ambulance or offered to help her get medical care. As a ten, eleven, twelve year old, it was my job to mop up the blood. And there was a lot of blood. Night after night.

The neighbors knew, of course, but no one helped. I was never even offered a safe place to stay for the night as we waiting in fear for my step-father to bang on the door.

As an adult, when I was Litigation Coordinator at the Women Against Abuse Legal Center in Philadelphia in the early 1990s, I found that not much had changed since I argued with New York City police officers in the 1970s. My clients were accused of provoking the men who broke their arms. My clients lost their children to protective services because there was violence in the home but I could not get protective orders enforced that would keep abusers out of the home. And one day I got a call from a priest who ran an in-patient drug rehab program. He wanted to talk to me about a man in his facility. The man was distraught to discover his wife had filed for a protective order against him. The priest told me he thought the man was a good man. That he wasn’t dangerous. That I should help him resolve this without going to court. He put the man on the phone weeping bitterly about losing his family and never having hit her. I told them when the next court date was and that he could make his arguments there. The priest thought me heartless.

Indeed I did make a huge mistake that day. A fatal mistake. I did not confirm whether the man was free to leave the facility if he wanted. If I had known, I would have called the client immediately to report the conversation. I would have, and should have, warned her. But I didn’t. And within a few hours of that phone call, the man left rehab, went home, and stabbed his wife twelve times in front of their two toddlers. I will live forever knowing that maybe, just maybe, I could have saved her life.

The violence I and Patrick Stewart saw as a child, and that I saw as a lawyer, continues today. The law has changed significantly in most places in the U.S. but enforcement is still woefully inadequate. Women who defend themselves end up going to prison while their abusers are still walked around the block.

Domestic violence often increases during the holiday season. Families are stressed. And during an economic depression, conditions are even worse and escape is even more difficult. This is also a time for giving. So I am giving to one of my favorite non-profits: The National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women. This organization provides support for women imprisoned for defending themselves against abusive partners.

Please give. If not to the National Clearinghouse, find a local battered woman’s shelter and give generously.

Has domestic violence touched your life? Is ending violence against women something you are working on? How has your experience of violence against women changed your life?

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Stacey Armato Responds To The TSA Post On Her Breast Milk Detention

Stacey Armato, the mom who was detained by the TSA when she requested that her pumped breast milk be given an “alternate” screening, agreed to an interview with me to answer some questions that might be lingering since the TSA posted its statement on her case.

Q. In any earlier interview you said you hadn’t received an apology from the TSA but the TSA claims you accepted an apology from it. Did you receive an apology from the TSA?

A. In March of this year, TSA sent me a statement.  It stated that they were responding to my report that on “numerous occasions [I was] urged to put the breast milk through the x-ray machine and [was] subjected to additional screening.”  They stated that the “screening workforce [had] been briefed regarding this situation.”  The letter also stated that it was their “understanding that…the issue has been resolved” and they “extend [their] sincere apologies to [me] for the discomfort and inconvenience [I] experienced during the screening process.”  The letter concluded by stating that TSA “appreciate[d] that [I] took the time to share [my] concerns with [them].”  Of course, the complaint that I sent over to TSA on 2/2/10 addressed many important issues this letter did not acknowledge at all including being retaliated against, harassed, humiliated, degraded, threatened with arrest, held in security for an hour, among other things.  Frankly, I disregarded this letter from TSA in March as a standard form letter they would issue to any complaint and did not view it as an apology for what happened on 2/1/10. 

Q. The TSA states in its blog response: “The passenger has flown since these events occurred and has provided TSA a written confirmation that she no longer experiences issues.” Is this true?

A. The following week (2/9/10), I was ‘shadowed’ by a TSA authority assigned to me by Phoenix Airport to see what I go through each week.  As soon as I asked for an alternate screening, I was told to put the milk through the x-ray machine.  The TSA authority had to immediately make herself known to the TSA agent and said to give me an alternate screening.  It was clear that any briefing or training that had been done was futile.  In the weeks following that, after speaking with a Phoenix TSA customer service manager, I traveled out of a completely different gate.  I didn’t experience any more harassment or retaliation thereafter.  After a few more weeks, I resumed travel out of my original gate mindful never to encounter the four or five agents I had dealt with on 2/1/10. If there was a choice between two lines, I would pick the one with agents that were not part of the incident. I resumed travel out of my original gate fearful that I would encounter the same agents as on 2/1/10. I literally would start sweating wondering who I would encounter and how I would be treated.

On 4/22/10, after one of the final trips I took with breast milk, I emailed the Phoenix TSA customer service manager.  I wanted to make sure he knew that every week since 2/1/10, I had been instructed to place the milk through x-ray and had to ask again for an alternate screening…every single time.  I brought this to his attention so he knew the agents still had no knowledge or, possibly, no regard for the breast milk screening rules.  The response back to me was they were okay with that so long as, at some point, the agents remembered that my request [for alternate screening] was allowed. 

Q. How do you think the TSA should have responded to your complaint and how did its response fall short?

A. My attorneys have advised this I do not address specifically how the TSA should have responded. It may jeopardize my current tort claim against them, especially if they try to limit my relief to what I put in this response. After we exhaust all administrative remedies, we will file a lawsuit in federal court that addresses exactly what should have been done by the TSA.

What do you think about how the TSA has responded to Stacey Armato? Is the TSA “apology” and a “refresher” to TSA staff enough?

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The TSA Responds To Breast Milk Mom, Stacey Armato

[UPDATE: After the original publication of this blog post, the following went up on The TSA Blog: “Updated on 12/9/2010 at 8:25 P.M. to add that proper procedures were followed.” Oh, really? ]

Over at The TSA Blog, they have posted TSA Response to “TSA Breast Milk Screening” Video. It is quite short but has already acquired a large number of comments, the vast majority of which find the response inadequate.

Here are some interesting bits:

We extend our sincere apologies to any passenger who may have experienced discomfort and inconvenience during the screening process.

So is this directed at Stacey Armato whose video is being discussed or just airline passengers generally? And if they are talking about Armato, are they saying she may have experienced discomfort and inconvenience? Are we really in doubt on this point?

Well, actually maybe not. The TSA Blog’s “Blogger Bob” also writes:

We acknowledge this particular passenger experienced an out of the ordinary delay, and have worked with our officers to ensure we proceed with expediency in screening situations similar to this.

So the TSA acknowledges something happened that should not have happened. And what do they tell us about what happened to the agents involved?

After the investigation, the officers received refresher training for the visual inspection of breast milk (an infrequently requested procedure).

Really?? How about a refresher course on retaliation and false imprisonment?

There is something Blogger Bob writes that may raises some questions for those of you who have read my previous posts about Stacey Armato’s visit to the TSA plastic detention booth in Arizona here and here. And that is:

TSA investigated the matter and sent a letter of apology to the passenger in March of this year. The passenger has flown since these events occurred and has provided TSA a written confirmation that she no longer experiences issues.

Armato has said she did not receive an apology, that she continued to see the same crew at the same gate as she made her weekly flight back from Phoenix to L.A., and she is in the process of filing a lawsuit against the TSA for the damages she suffered on February 1st when she was detained. So what does she have to say about the TSA response to her video? Hang in there. Armato’s response will be posted here shortly.

Please feel free to leave a comment at The TSA Blog with your feelings about the TSA response to the video in which Armato is detained for asking her pumped breast milk go through “alternate” screening.

And leave a comment here with your thoughts. How do you feel about the TSA response posted on its blog?
Was a “refresher” enough? Should there have been a more severe sanction for the TSA staff? How do you feel about how the TSA is responding to the complaints of flyers?

Take note also that in The TSA Blog post about Armato, there is a link which we are encouraged to use to share our experiences with the TSA. I filed a formal complaint with the TSA on November 22nd after my teenage sons were separated from me without warning while going through a TSA security checkpoint at Logan Airport in Boston. Other than an acknowledgment that my complaint was received, I have received nothing from the TSA in response to my complaint.

So why is the TSA encouraging people to communicate with it if it does not respond meaningfully to complaints?

[UPDATE: Within seconds of publishing this post, I received an email from TSA customer service in Boston restating my complaint and apologizing for any “discomfort.” I have replied asking again some more specific questions concerning TSA policy on screening families traveling together. Another post coming on that point.]

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