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Council to take up APD gender identity proposal

Tuesday, May 3, 2016 by Jack Craver

The Public Safety Commission unanimously recommended a resolution Monday that it hopes will prompt the police department to reform its policies on how gender is reported in criminal complaints and other official reports.

The resolution directs the city manager to develop a policy on how the Austin Police Department refers to transgender and gender nonconforming individuals in “internal and external communication.” In addition, it directs the city manager to begin a community stakeholder process in order to educate police officers on how to identify transgender and gender nonconforming people.

The resolution calls for staff to present the proposed new policy as well as a report on the stakeholder process to City Council by Aug. 4.

Commissioner Daniela Nunez was prompted to bring forward the resolution by events surrounding the January murder of Monica Loera, a transgender woman. Loera was identified by police, and subsequently by press, by her birth name and gender before she transitioned, including a pre-transition photo.

It took more than a week for media to report that Loera had been misidentified, said Nunez, resulting in confusion that prevented many who knew her from being aware of her death.

“This delay in reporting was disrespectful to Monica’s friends and family,” said Nunez.

As a practical matter, she said, the resolution would “improve the accuracy of reporting crimes.”

Paula Buls, a psychotherapist who specializes in transgender issues, spoke in favor of the resolution, calling the misidentification of Loera “egregious.” She related that transgender people have wondered whether the same would happen to them under those circumstances. Would the gender identity that they have worked to have accepted be denied after their death?

Buls acknowledged the challenges such situations present for police, who she said often find themselves “caught between the wishes of the family from whom the transgender person is often estranged from” and the victim. The families of the victim, she said, often do not accept the person’s gender identity.

But it is the difficulty of such situations, she argued, that makes a clear policy from the city essential.

Also speaking in support was Claire Bow, an attorney who works on the Trans Name and Gender Marker Project, an initiative through the University of Texas Law School that provides pro bono legal services to help people get name or gender marker changes on official documentation.

Bow explained the obstacles that transgender people face in having their transition recognized officially, saying that some judges in Texas refuse “out of ignorance or prejudice” to grant requested changes. And even when a hostile jurist is not involved, the cost of getting such a change approved is expensive and complicated, she said.

Indeed, in calling for a more concrete city policy, the resolution notes that the state has no standardized practice for legal name or gender marker change and that one-third of transgender people in a recent national survey said they were not able to make such changes.

Other members of the commission said little in response to the testimony, and the item was adopted quickly. Council will take up the resolution on Thursday.

Photo by WhisperToMe (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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