Law enforcement has had a strained relationship with the transgender community for many decades. And much like other minority groups, the transgender community has clashed many times with law enforcement throughout the community’s fight for equality and civil rights. But some law enforcement agencies are taking aggressive steps to mend this relationship through direct engagement with the transgender community. It’s often individual officers who are making the real gains in overcoming mistrust and even hatred of police. The San Diego Police Department and Officer Christine Garcia are two excellent examples.
Last week the San Diego LGBT Community Center hosted an event as part of the National Transgender Day of Remembrance. Officer Garcia, as a member of the transgender community, helped organize the event. But when she showed up for the event in her San Diego Police uniform, she was turned away by community center personnel. Wait, what? The LGBT Community Center turned away a transgender woman, who helped organize their event, who showed up to participate and to provide security for the event, and who was in a police uniform, because they didn’t want to make attendees feel uncomfortable?
LGBTQ Nation and numerous other news sources carried the story and the response from Delores Jacobs, CEO of the San Diego LGBT Community Center, who “called the incident a regrettable misunderstanding.’While we need to support those that are uncomfortable and honor their reactions to valid and understandable difficult previous experiences, we also need to explain that our LGBTQ San Diego police liaisons are a valued part of our community,’ she said in a statement.”
I’ll be the first to admit that law enforcement has a huge relationship problem in general with many segments of the public, but when an individual officer, who is a member of the community, and a law enforcement agency, like San Diego PD, makes the effort to engage and to build trust, I think it’s unacceptable for an advocacy and community organization like the LGBT Center to reject such efforts.
Look, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t criticize law enforcement for being distant and disconnected, advocate for equal treatment and respect from police, and then turn away those officers who are truly working to make a difference, much like Officer Garcia. Of all segments of the LGBT community who have a stake in trust building with police, it’s the transgender community.
We believe, now more than ever, that law enforcement agencies need to focus on trust and relationship building with all groups, but this is particularly important for the LGBT community and the transgender community. Law enforcement is finally starting to see examples of transgender officers becoming visible within the rank and this creates the perfect opportunity for departments to develop liaisons with, as in this case, the transgender community. But the community has to participate and be willing to engage in return. Actions like this one do great harm, even if it is found to be a “misunderstanding.” Don’t complain about a lack of relationship and trust of police unless you are willing to reach out and meet law enforcement even part of the way.
We applaud San Diego Police and Officer Garcia for all they are doing to engage and build trust.