Chicago Ald. Joe Moreno and a group of local LGBT rights activists are pushing for an ordinance that would establish a transgender issues commission in the Chicago Police Department as well as set guidelines for police to follow while handling transgender people.
“Basically, it is a human rights issue and we want everyone to be treated fairly,” said Moreno, who represents the city’s 1st Ward. “We need our police officers to be trained to treat transgender people with dignity and respect.”
Formally titled The Police Treatment of Transgender Individuals Ordinance, the measure would add gender identity definitions to police policy, require police to respect an individual’s unique gender identity, and would require police to undergo training for handling transgender people.
Members of The Civil Rights Agenda and the Chicago LGBT Citywide Coalition are leading the effort to make the policy law. Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward) has also pledged his support for the ordinance, which Moreno will introduce during the next city council meeting March 14.
However, Moreno said that the ordinance should have been done months ago.
“I’m not the most patient person and I’m pretty strident with this,” he said.
Initially, the aldermen had planned to introduce the ordinance in January and then again during the Feb. 15 city council meeting, but delayed it in order to continue work with police leadership. Proponents of the ordinance will meet with the police later this week, according to Moreno.
“We want to go over it with Commander Kathy Boehmer,” said Cappleman. “I want to make sure that we address any concerns the police may have. We just want to make sure it’s right, so we’re having the police review.”
Following its introduction, it will then be moved forward to a committee vote, and if approved, will be voted on in the full city council, and will then go to the desk of Mayor Rahm Emanuel where it is expected to be signed into law, according to Anthony Martinez, the executive director at TCRA.
“This ordinance will ensure that trans folks are treated fairly and in the same manner as any other resident of Chicago by the CPD,” Martinez said. “Additionally, there are certain issues that transgender people face that no other individual faces when they are in police custody, and this will ensure that the CPD has a certain set of policies that address those issues.”
Owen Daniel-McCarter of the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois said the ordinance is a step in the right direction.
“I am a transgender person but, largely because of my race, gender presentation, and other privileges, I do not experience systemic policing and surveillance in the same way many of my clients, community members, and allies do,” said Daniel-McCarter. “However, as a trans person living in Chicago, I find hope in the fact that our city is willing to admit grave problems regarding racism, homophobia, and transphobia among members of the police force and is also willing to do something proactive to stop them.”
Nearly half of transgender respondents in a 2010 National Gay and Lesbian Task Force study said that they felt uncomfortable seeking police assistance. About a fifth of transgender people reported harassment from police officers, particularly transgender women of color — 60 percent said they were abused, according to the study.
The study also noted that 20 percent of respondents were denied equal services.
“We’re just at the tip of the iceberg for addressing the trans community,” Cappleman told Chicago Phoenix. “Where do they go to the bathroom? It’s so basic, where we’re starting from. We have so much ground to travel for the trans community.”
The local transgender community faces the most discrimination and is the most disenfranchised, “by far. Hands down,” Cappleman said.
“Number one, I think it’s great that Ald. Moreno is introducing this,” he said. “People aren’t relying on two gay aldermen to do this anymore. I get so excited that Joe Moreno is introducing this. It’s just wonderful.”
In addition to adding protections for transgender people, the ordinance would effectively create the Police Transgender Issues Commission, a supervising body that would develop additional training for police officers and ensure the implementation of such training across the city. It would also release an annual report detailing the police’s adherence to the new guidelines.
The commission is the most important part of the ordinance, said Martinez.
“It would be the first of its kind and I think it will have national implications if passed. The Transgender Police Issues Commission would be the first time, to my knowledge, such a body has been created,” he said.
The commission would be composed of six transgender Chicagoans or people who work for LGBT organizations and five Chicago Police officers, according to a fact sheet from TCRA.
In 2007, Washington D.C. adopted a similar policy, but without an oversight committee for its enforcement. Since then, the policy has failed, said Martinez. ”We can do better. Chicago can do better, and creating this commission will allow Chicago to ensure that our CPD transgender policy is a success,” he said.
The ordinance would not create any “special rights” for transgender people, according to the fact sheet, and comes just weeks after TCRA and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy introduced a bill that would add gender identity to Illinois hate crimes law.
We will continue to update this story as it develops.