(619) 505-7777

I am trans and San Diego police don't bother me, but am I the exception?

I am trans and San Diego police don't bother me, but am I the exception?
Photo credit:

I'm not afraid of cops. But the white-wash of a report critical of the San Diego Police Department's (SDPD) treatment of transgender people troubles me greatly.

As a trans woman living in San Diego for more than 40 years, I’ve never had a bad experience with local law enforcement. I’m a middle class, white woman with all my gender markers aligned with my presentation.

I travel in the safety of my car and shop at suburban malls. My privilege pretty much insulates me from encounters with law enforcement.

And if I do get stopped by cops, I feel confident in how to interact with them. And if I make a mistake, there's little chance that I'll be hauled to jail. But just because I’ve never had any negative confrontations with cops that doesn’t mean my less fortunate trans siblings have not.

When Veronica Zerrer, president of The Neutral Corner, San Diego’s oldest transgender organization, calls the National Center For Transgender Equality's (NCTE) criticism of local police “inaccurate" and she claims that it "does not represent local reality,” she ignores her privilege as a middle-class white trans woman.

She also fails to take into account that she is a retired army officer and that she is good friends with San Diego’s lone transgender cop, Christine Garcia, who is used by the SDPD to demonstrate that they are trans-friendly.

In defending the police, Zerrer states that because the SDPD turns over detainees to the county sheriffs for lockup, they are not responsible for how transgender people are jailed. But according to former San Diego County Sheriff's Commander Dave Meyers, the lockup of trans people is left to the discretion of individual deputies, who have the authority to house trans women with the male population.

The SDPD is aware and thus complicit. Perhaps if there was civilian oversight of local law enforcement, this issue could be properly addressed. Since Zerrer says this criticism is correct, perhaps Neutral Corner should use their standing in the LGBT community to demand this.

Zerrer also refers to an official statement sent to Neutral Corner by SDPD Sergeant Daniel Meyer, a gay cop. In defense of the SDPD, Meyer points to the early 1990s when his department established a community liaison program.

This ignores the fact that until July 1998 trans people were still being arrested in San Diego for “wearing the clothes of the opposite sex.” The cross-dressing law criminalized all trans people. And LGBT cops were not part of that liaison program until recently, when the SDPD assigned gay and trans cops to act as liaisons to LGBT organizations and events, such as San Diego Pride.

Pride is a big business promoting events that bring tens of thousands of people and a lot of revenue every year to Hillcrest. I understand that Pride has to work closely with SDPD to ensure everyone’s safety. But it wasn’t too long ago that gay men and lesbians, along with trans people, were being brutalized by the same police department.

Before giving high marks to the SDPD for their treatment of trans people, Pride’s Jen LaBarbera should have consulted with our homeless population and sex workers and people who use public transit.

Being harassed on public transportation and just walking while trans is an ongoing problem, particularly for trans women of color.

I'm not an apologist for local critics of the SDPD. There are activists in our community who want to ban all law enforcement from wearing their uniforms at LGBT events, claiming that it triggers trans folks. But if we exclude trans cops because of the department's historic brutality and on-going harassment of the trans community, then we need to also ban the medical and religious communities from marching with us for their part in our marginalization.

There is no doubt that relations between the LGBT community and the SDPD have slowly improved over the years. But when our LGBT organizations rally around the cops, it demonstrates our lack of empathy for those who are much more likely to have negative encounters with law enforcement. I’m not afraid of cops. Are you? Let's not pretend that those of us with privilege represent all of us.

You can read the National Center for Transgender Equality's report HERE