We Still Need a Policy To Treat Trans People Like People?


The Chicago Police Department has adopted a new policy that mandates more humane treatment of transgender people, highlighting that specifically naming groups of people for protection is still apparently necessary.

The change in policy over at the Chicago Police Department (CPD) came about after nearly two years of dialog between rights groups and the department.

The initial incident that sparked talks saw a transgender woman making her way home from a Lakeview grocery store in February 2010 allegedly harassed by police and (incorrectly) charged with solicitation.

This was one of many incidents reported by trans people in the area who said that the police presumed them to be sex workers simply because of their gender expression. Misgendering and harassment while in police custody also featured in some complaints.

The quietly adopted change to CPD policy came into force on August 22, but only recently came to light.

Signed by CPD Supt. Garry McCarthy, the policy:

  • mandates that police do not automatically assume trans women are engaged in sex work;
  • states that police should use the preferred pronouns used by the individual;
  • mandates that officers will “…treat all persons with the courtesy and dignity which is inherently due every person as a human being;”
  • expressly forbids police from using strip searches to determine the sex of an individual;
  • forbids derogatory language in reference to a detainee’s gender expression or identity;
  • prohibits disclosing a detainee’s gender identity or expression to other detainees;
  • stipulates that police cannot use the presence of hormone therapy drugs linked to treating gender dysphoria, or paraphernalia used to transport or administer those drugs such as syringes, as cause alone to suspect a detainee of a crime;
  • highlights that police cannot withhold such medically prescribed drugs while detainee is in police custody;
  • and stipulates that, whenever possible, detainees should be transported and housed in solitary spaces in order to best protect them from harassment.

LGBT rights groups have praised (PDF) the policy, with Jennifer Ritter of the Lakeview Action Coalition, who initially helped draft the changes, quoted as saying the policy was a “huge step forward.”

However, there are several concerns. The policy still relies on taking official gender classification from ID documents, and due to the fact that gender change surgery is often required to change ID markers, this means trans detainees may still be classified as their birth sex and not by their gender identity. Also, if IDs are not available, detainees could still be classified based on their genitalia.

Genital change surgery is not always required for the treatment of gender dysphoria, and for trans people, who are disproportionately affected by joblessness and homelessness, such procedures may be out of reach even if medically warranted.

For this reason, it is as yet unknown whether a proposed, and somewhat contentious, ordinance that would shore up trans rights in Chicago will be needed. However, with the quiet adoption of this policy — which is doubtless a positive step — there comes a startlingly clear fact: it is still unfortunately necessary to create enumerated or “named” classes of people in order that they are given the same dignities, respect and humane treatment as everyone else. If they are not enumerated, abuses like those mentioned above can and still do occur.

And this, in essence, is the very reason why in the wider scope trans-inclusive legislation like the federal Employment Non Discrimination Act, that was explicitly mentioned in the official Democratic Party Platform released this week, is vital to ensure that trans people are treated as the people they are, and not dehumanized as a nameless, faceless “other.”


Related Reading:

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Catholic Charities Suing Illinois For Special Right to Turn Away Gay Couples Seeking to Adopt

Image used under the Creative Commons Attribution License with thanks to Jack Dorsey.


Liliana G.
Liliana Garcia5 years ago

Cristina: Thanks for your message. I guess like everything else, people will have to outgrow deep seated fears and superstitions. A looooong time ago I spent a summer in France (yeah, trying to learn French but let's not digress) and most restrooms were unisex. I was young then and a little more self conscious, anyway before the summer was over (unbelievable to me if you had asked about it before that summer) I got used to it. No problem there. Mind sets are usually altered when you undergo a change in your experience and you find out THERE'S REALLY NO PROBLEM THERE.

Cristina S.
Cristina S5 years ago

Forgive me, I'm probably stupid...why do we need LAWS to treat people like people? I'm a lesbian, not trans, but I hear problems with trans all the time...so you're not trans...does that mean that they have no rights? I'm white and I've never been discriminated for my races...that doesn't mean I don't understand the problems other races have...

Kynthia R.
Kynthia Rosgeal5 years ago

Having been in custody for a week as a trans woman I can indeed relate. In NV such policies are not in effect. And if anyone has ever spent a week in solitary (you get one hour out of 48 to shower) you wouldn't understand why this isn't an acceptable method. I understand in other states they have blocks solely for trans persons and they enjoy the same rights as all prisoners.

And I don't need my own bathroom, I just need narrow minded cis genders persons not to be so concerned about my using the toilet.

Pretty creepy and perverted if you are focusing on me peeing.

Gabrielle L.
Gabrielle L5 years ago

It is deplorable that police officers (or anyone else, for that matter) need to be told specifically to treat a particular person like a human being possessing rights deserving of respect. However, at least Chicago is not ignoring the problem and pretending that this execrable state of affairs does not exist. In the absence of human decency, we need regulations.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago

Noted. Thanks.

Anne Ortiz Talvaz
Anne O5 years ago

A pity such policies need to be made explicit... but far, far better than no policy at all.

Mary L.
Mary L5 years ago

A step in the right direction. Whether individual officers do more than lip service remains to be seen.

Allan Yorkowitz
.5 years ago

Keep moving forward Chicago.

James Campbell
James C5 years ago

“expressly forbids police from using strip searches to determine the sex of an individual”

If only life were that simple. If the police (or any one else) regard a strip search as a method of determining a person’s sex, then they are woefully out-of-date and misinformed.Despite the traditional method of sexing children by a quick glance between the legs in the delivery room, all children born in developed countries also undergo other tests (e.g. Karyotype) to determine sex and other conditions. Even then, it is not always possible to be precise. The test for gender however, is the quickest test of all - just ask the individual.

The problem for our species is that a large percentage of human kind are totally fixated on external appearance with which to evaluate another person. The importance attached to the genitalia is part of this, but of course, it can also have echoes of prurient sexual interest. Police officers are an essential part of a well-ordered society, but they are human and potentially as fallible as anyone else. Whilst some officers would, I am sure, approach a strip search with absolute professionalism, others will react with the same immature unprofessionalism of the average teenager. This is why I am totally opposed to any search of an individual’s anatomy by police officers. On the rare occasions that a search can be justified, they should call on a police surgeon.

Leen Kel
Leen Kel5 years ago

Only God can judge us. Pls put away prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination. We should unite in peace and harmony while embracing others weaknesess or strengths. Peace everyone!