US Department of Justice to begin transgender training with police forces
WASHINGTON, D.C., April 3, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- The Department of Justice (DOJ) is expanding its involvement in transgender issues with a new program designed to "lay a stronger foundation of trust" between transgendered Americans and law enforcement agencies.
Speaking last Thursday, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole announced that the DOJ was launching a training program that is "the newest tool in the Department’s toolbox to forge a stronger collaboration between those who have taken an oath to serve and protect all in their communities including the particularly vulnerable members of the transgender community."
The program was launched under the umbrella of the Community Relations Service, which was founded during the Civil Rights era but now "works with communities to employ strategies to prevent and respond to alleged violent hate crimes committed on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or disability." The 2009 "Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act" expanded the agency's responsibilities.
The goal is to train police departments under guidelines designed and modeled in part by Harper Jean Tobin, policy director for the National Center for Transgender Equality. Regional headquarters of the Community Relations Service will provide the training.
Multiple police departments have been accused of alleged transgender discrimination. The issues range from police officers using a title the transgendered individual may find offensive -- i.e. "Mr." or "Mrs." for someone who has "changed" his or her gender -- to a lawsuit filed against Jersey City, New Jersey because a woman who "changed" gender was placed in a holding cell with women.
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Transgender advocates say such discrimination should be better handled by police. "A lot of transgender people might never have surgery," according to Human Rights Campaign Legislative Counsel Robin Maril. "They don't see it as necessary, and it doesn't necessarily impact their identity."
Maril says whatever gender someone identifies himself or herself with should be the gender the person is addressed as.
The problem of transgendered people in prisons is relatively small. New Jersey's state prisons house 16 transgender inmates out of a total of 22,000. While transgender-advocacy groups say these people must be treated based upon self-identification, officials say inmates are medically evaluated and interviewed by a psychologist in addition to consideration of self-identification. Only at that point are decisions about placement made.
One problem for police is that criminals try to conceal identities. Furthermore, one attorney says differences between physical appearances and what appears on a driver's license creates concern for police officers.
According to Associate Attorney General Tony West when announcing the training, "Today’s training will help these dedicated women and men in uniform achieve that goal of excellence in service."
Cole said the program is "a cultural training program designed to educate law enforcement about the transgender communities they serve. It also is designed to foster mutual understanding between law enforcement and the communities they serve, and enhance law enforcement outreach capabilities to the transgender communities by addressing sensitivities, stereotypes, and expectations."
"At its most basic level," said Cole, "the new training will provide tools to enhance an officer’s ability to build partnerships with community members and to work with fellow citizens, who share a commitment to public safety."
In his remarks, Cole praised Attorney General Eric Holder for "concluding that the Defense of Marriage Act was indefensible in court," as well as extending "benefits to same-sex marriages to robust enforcement of the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act." He said these and other efforts show "the Department’s commitment to ensuring equality for the LGBT community."
Holder's refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act led to articles of impeachment from a small group of House Republicans, who argued he violated his oath of office to defend the nation's laws.
The announcement of the training did not mention the cost to the nation's taxpayers, nor what sort of oversight and other measures would be recommended in the training. Neither the Community Relations Service nor The National Center for Transgender Equality responded to multiple requests for comment from LifeSiteNews.