Priesing follows up with Police Chief on transgender issues
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Priesing follows up with Police Chief on transgender issues

[Note: GLAA arranged a meeting on December 15, 1999 between D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey and representatives of the gay and lesbian community. Local attorney and activist Dana Priesing represented transgender concerns at the meeting. This letter is her follow-up with Chief Ramsey as promised at that meeting.]

Dana Priesing, Esq.
733 15th Street, N.W., 7th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20005
Voice/Faxmodem 202-347-3024

December 22, 1999

Charles H. Ramsey, Chief
Metropolitan Police Department
District of Columbia
300 Indiana Avenue, N.W.
Room 5080
Washington, D.C. 20001

Re: Dec. 15 Meeting with Gay & Lesbian Community Representatives
Follow-up Concerning Transgender Issues

Dear Chief Ramsey:

It was a pleasure to meet you on December 15 during your meeting with gay and lesbian community representatives. Particularly welcome was your expression of interest in learning more about transgendered residents of the District of Columbia and how the Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") might most effectively understand, interact with, and provide services to them. During the meeting I promised to follow up with some more specific proposals. That is the purpose of this letter.

What Does It Mean to Be Transgendered?

As a preliminary matter, I believe it is useful to define the term "transgendered." I suppose the most common usage is a "politically correct" reference to (i) transsexuals (i.e., people who have undergone sex reassignment surgery, or who are preparing to do so); and/or (ii) non-transsexual people who nevertheless live, work or play in a gender other than their birth gender (i.e., in common slang, "she-males," "he-shes," "drag queens," and "cross-dressers").

Many activists use the term more broadly, in an effort to cover anyone -- lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual, transsexual, etc. -- whose sense of self, physical characteristics, and/or behavior is typical of someone of another gender. In this broader usage, "transgendered" may refer to (i) transsexuals; (ii) non-transsexuals who live, work or play in non-birth genders, including sex workers, "cross-dressers" who dress transgendered for recreation, and "drag kings" and "drag queens" who dress transgendered as performance or for employment (e.g., Ru Paul); (iii) intersexed people (commonly referred to as "hermaphrodites"); (iv) women (whatever their sexual orientation) who are considered "too masculine" in their appearance or behavior; and (v) men (whatever their sexual orientation) who are considered "too feminine" in their appearance or behavior.

It is important to realize that many of those whose appearance or behavior is at times transgendered do not self-identify as "transgenders." The term is best understood then not as a distinct identity and subgroup connected with the lesbian, gay and bisexual community, but as a functional means of describing the gender diversity that exists among straight, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. I prefer this usage because it suggests how wide-ranging is the "transgendered" community which may interact with MPD personnel.

Training Possibilities

You expressed interest in training MPD officers so that they have a greater understanding of this subject. Training in some or all of the following topics might be beneficial:

a. Basic demographic information about transgendered people (utilizing, perhaps, the results of the recent Washington D.C. transgender needs survey);

b. Frank answers to common questions MPD personnel might have (e.g., what are the medical protocols governing sex reassignment therapy in the United States; aren't all transgenders sex workers?; etc.);

c. Common challenges faced by transgendered people (e.g., loss of income, discrimination, harassment, physical assault) and how such challenges might involve MPD officers;

d. Means of identifying possible hate crimes based on bias against gender diversity;

e. Special issues that may arise when holding or incarcerating people with atypical sexual anatomy;

f. Discussion of recent legal proceedings filed against police departments and correctional agencies by transgendered claimants, and what standards such proceedings suggest should apply to treatment of transgendered detainees, suspects and prisoners.

Presentations and/or materials examining any or all of the above could be prepared and distributed in one or more of the following ways:

a. Curriculum Insert. Written materials used to train MPD recruits could be modified to cover some of the topics described above. Estimated presentation length would depend upon topics selected. A reasonable assumption is at least seven paragraphs per topic.

b. In-Service Training. For active-duty MPD officers, I assume that the MPD provides occasional in-service training covering various topics, as the need arises. A session could be scheduled to cover some of the topics described above. Estimated presentation length: 60-120 minutes, including a question and answer period.

c. Roll Call Presentations. You explained during our meeting that the MPD conducts 10-15 minute roll-call presentations when needed. Some of the topics described above could be covered in such presentations.

I would be happy to discuss this subject in greater detail with you or your subordinates, as you prefer. I am interested in increasing the level of understanding of these issues among MPD officers.

Incidentally, during the December 15 meeting you mentioned the idea of having the City Council set legal standards for determining the sex of citizens of the District of Columbia. Although I have not researched the question, I suspect that sex is determined at birth, and a presumption arises from what one's birth certificate says. The D.C. Code creates a procedure for amending one's birth certificate following sex reassignment surgery; this conforms the birth-certificate based presumption to the transsexual's reassigned anatomical sex.

It is important to bear in mind, however, that: (i) sex reassignment is not instantaneous (the overall process typically takes at least several years); (ii) not everyone is interested in or has the economic means to undergo sex reassignment (female-to-male sex reassignment surgery is particularly expensive); and (iii) naturally intersexed people exist. Consequently situations will arise in which MPD personnel encounter individuals with atypical sexual anatomy (e.g., masculine-appearing persons having female genitalia, and vice versa). Given the range of disparities that can occur between anatomy, self-identification, gender role, and documentation, simplistic standards likely would do more harm than good here. I think common sense and discretion work best, guided by the following principles:

a. Persons with atypical anatomy (e.g., pre-operative transsexuals, female-to-male transsexuals who remain anatomically female, intersexed persons, etc.) should be accorded the same level of convenience and sanitary facilities as non-anatomically atypical persons.

b. Special weight should be given to how one holds oneself out. (For example, a female-to-male transsexual who has not undergone sex reassignment surgery, but who has had a double mastectomy and has lived for many years exclusively as a male, should be addressed as a man, and to the extent consistent with personal safety, should be treated as such.)

c. When an individual's safety is at risk, segregated custody should be considered.

I would be happy to discuss any of the matters covered above in greater detail with you or one or your subordinates, whether in the context of meetings dedicated to these issues, or in the context of future meetings with lesbian and gay community representatives. Simply let me know how you wish to proceed.

Finally, given your interest in these issues, I believe it would be useful if members of the transgendered community were to ensure that someone knowledgeable about these issues could attend the periodic meetings you already have with lesbian and gay community representatives. I will speak with several activists I know, and see if we can arrange rotating representation at future meetings.



Dana Priesing

cc: Carlene R. Cheatam
Special Asst. to the Mayor for LGBT Affairs

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