After a series of security checks, Toronto-based Sikh-Canadian comedian and YouTube and Vine star, Jasmeet Singh — better known online as JusReign — says he was forced to remove his turban at San Francisco International airport by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) before he was allowed to fly this weekend.
Although airline officials provided a private room for him to remove his turban so that it could be X-rayed, Singh said they would not provide a mirror for him to retie his turban, and suggested that Singh walk through the airport terminal bareheaded to find a public restroom in which to retie his turban.
"Pretty much the vibe that I was getting was that we've done our business, we've taken care of our security measures," Singh told NBC News, "and you're not our problem anymore. We're not going to accommodate you now that we've done what we need to do."
Singh told NBC News that he complied with everything that he was asked to do because he did not want to miss his flight, adding that he understands that TSA has security protocols. The real problem for Singh was not being able to retie his turban in that private space because it did not have a mirror, which Singh said showed insensitivity and lack of respect when agents told him to go out into public to retie his turban.
"Like any Sikh man in my position, it was demoralizing and embarrassing, to be sent out after being forced to remove my turban," Singh, whose YouTube channel has nearly 700,000 subscribers and more than 99,000,000 views, said. "I've done YouTube videos where I have shown my hair and I have shown how to tie a turban, so I'm more comfortable in the public space, but if it was anyone else in my position — another Sikh man or maybe a woman in hijab — to force them to walk out to use a bathroom to tie their turban or hijab again, it's kind of ridiculous. Just bringing a mirror to the private screening room will allow them to put it on again, which is not that big of a hassle on their end."
TSA spokesperson Nico Melendez told NBC Bay Area that the agency is looking into the matter and had not yet received a formal complaint from Singh. As of 2010, U.S. guidelines no longer require air passengers to remove turbans if doing so makes them uncomfortable. However, they may still be subject to additional security screening, including pat-downs by TSA officials.
Singh told NBC News that he will likely file a complaint. "I think there is a lack of education and there's a lack of awareness when it comes to this issue and that's something I'd like to bring light to," Singh said.
The comedian also noted that some Sikhs choose to forgo their turbans when flying to avoid this hassle.
In response to Singh's experience, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) told NBC News that they contacted the Department of Justice (DOJ) and TSA as soon as they heard about what happened.
"We are disappointed but unfortunately not surprised by the situation faced by JusReign," SALDEF Executive Director Jasjit Singh said. "TSA policies have been created to prevent this sort of humiliation. We need more trainings to ensure that security officials on the ground are aware of the policies."
Harmann P. Singh, a policy fellow at SALDEF, added that SALDEF has worked to conduct trainings with TSA agents in 34 cities, and has trained agents who have served in hundreds of locations across the country.
Since Singh began tweeting Sunday night, fans and others have spoken out on Twitter in support.
Singh was recently nominated for a Shorty Award, which honors the best in social media, in the category of YouTube Comedian.
This is a second time in a month that a prominent Sikh was asked to remove his turban at an airport. Fashion designer and actor Waris Ahlulwalia was not allowed to board an Aeroméxico flight earlier this month because of his turban, and he refused to leave Mexico until he had received both an apology and a commitment for better training of airport staff.
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