I would like to take a few moments of your time and discuss this group. A decade ago several of us were brought together by Dr. Thomas Whetstone, as part of a study which the good doctor was conducting, relating to transsexuals in law enforcement. Then, there were a scant few officers involved and few of us knew of, or were acquainted with the others. There had been attempts to organize before with TOPS (Transgender Officers Protect & Serve); the group founded by Tony Barreto-Neto, one of our current members here. For one reason or another, this group did not work out and the networking of law enforcement officers dealing with Gender Identity Disorder, stalled.
Dr. Whetstone revived interest in cops talking with other cops, about their lives, their jobs, their experiences, and their families. I took that idea a step farther, by setting up this Yahoo Discussion Group, on Halloween of 2002. I dubbed it T- COPS, because the acronym at the time fit the make up of our membership. Over the past six years, the group and its membership have grown. We have incorporated parole and probation officers, federal agents, community service officers, forensic professionals and technicians, college and campus police, federal police, parks police and rangers and communications dispatchers. These positions were added because we all deal with the same organizational problems in employment within the law enforcement environment.
We began the first discussion group with some 10-15 members, who were from the US, the UK, and Canada. I had no idea, that six years later, that we would have a Yahoo Group membership of (120) people, let alone the other (710) people that have contacted me, that were not interested or afraid to be involved in the discussion group. AS time passed, we found members in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. To be honest, I never thought that there would be so many Trans-Folk in Law Enforcement. we "ALL" thought that we were the only ones! Officers from the former Soviet Union, Spain, Portugal, France, China, Japan, Cuba, and Ireland have contacted TCOPS for information and assistance.
From our humble beginnings, we have grown stronger and have experienced many positive outcomes in on-the-job transitions. We have had our set backs and negative issues with agencies, as well. I would like to see a day when gender transition is not frowned upon, discouraged, or opposed in our employment. We have a right to determine our own sense of gender and gender identity; a right to self-determination. No one should criticize our personal decisions or deter our course of action, when coming to deeply felt conclusions about this very basic perception of who we are.
My vision for this group is to take a step in another direction, and reach out to our peers and to law enforcement agencies, dealing with the challenge of a transgender employee transitioning in the workplace. I have attempted to open discussions about these ideas and I see this as a perfect time to implement the ideas which can help transgendered cops in coping with their own crises, and to provide police executives with guidance and resources, to effectively assist officers wishing to transition, to re-enter the workplace in their newly minted gender.
To accomplish these tasks, it will take money and your participation. I believe that we can seek funding in the form of grants as a non-profit organization. At this point, the monies would be utilized to set up and facilitate the concepts of the Crisis Response Team; and a Transition Team. More about those ideas, shortly.
The Crisis Response Team would be utilized to respond to members in crisis. ;Many of us have seen or experienced suicide as a consequence of persons suffering from GID and the toll that it takes on us as individuals, upon our families and friends and co-workers. The types of situations which I envision this team being used would include:
Response to members in crisis (communication and/ physical contact)
Response to MIA members (communication and/ physical contact)
Providing assistance and direction to resources for families and the member or employee.
Support Network building and support
The way that people see us is important. When people in gender transition are at a low stage in life, their own perceptions may mislead them. Self- esteem can be so low as to allow the person to entertain the possibility of suicide. I have been there and I know this overwhelming feeling of despair. My hope is that this team will help someone come to grips with their life, their decisions, and the ramifications implied for themselves, their families and their employers. I see this as key to the survival of this group, if it is to be seen as anything more than a social club or discussion group.
At the same time, another aspect of survival is the ability of our transitioning members to be gainfully employed and earn a living wage. Many of the membership have transitioned after they have retired or left law enforcement for civilian employment, mostly out of fear of losing their jobs. In this day and age, I do not believe that this is fair or just! Speaking from the experience that I have had with the members of this group, I have found that "we" are generally "very" qualified at our positions, and pre-disclosure, are considered by our peers and by our supervisors as very capable law enforcement officers.
I believe that the key to helping our membership and our peers, is to make sure that they continue to be employed. Their transitions may be made easier with the participation and assistance of a "Transition Team," that could respond to the questions and inquiries of law enforcement managers and members coping with a co-worker coming to grips with GID.
I would like to see this group available for various aspects of employee transition in the workplace, to include:
Assisting the employee with a plan of action for their transition
Assisting the employee in their disclosure to their employer
Providing resource information in the form of guidelines, model transitions, and other law enforcement managers who have been successful in the transition of their employee(s)
Providing reference and educational material to employers and co-workers
Providing presentations to law enforcement Executive staff and also to employee groups
Making this all happen is going to be a struggle, at the on-set. I do, however, have faith that there are organizations and individuals that will help us in our efforts. The Grant Team will assist the group by seeking out, applying for and administering funding. Efforts of the "Grant Team" will include:
Locating, identifying, and requesting grants from various sources; public and private
Administering the grants and allocating funding for the target projects
Coordination with the Board, regarding budgeting of projects
Accounting of monies utilized for specific projects
Law Enforcement officers are focal points of any community. We are role models to some and a figure of authority to others. When an officer, sheriff, or agent, transitions at work they are plainly visible to the public and thus, encourage acceptance and tolerance. These perceptions and challenges reflect how we are perceived by our communities. The way our peers and supervisors treat us, is seen and mimicked by the people that we serve. When we are treated with respect and dignity by our peers, the public also treats us this way, and thus what is good for "us" is also beneficial to the rest of the trans-community.
I would like to see TCOPS take a more public role with respect to the equal rights treatment of our members within employment and law. We deserve continued employment and have the right not to be fired or harassed, as a consequence of our gender identity issues. Some of the ways that this can be effected is through self awareness of the issues that each of us face on the job in dealing with out transition and also through education of our agency executives and co-workers. I feel that the direction, which we should be taking, is one of education and action to help ourselves from within and also help our employers and peers, better understand that we should continue to be valued employees.
This group has indeed come a long way. My hope is to make it easier on those that come after us and hopefully someday the need for this group will no longer exist!
Julie Callahan, Executive Director Founder Transgender Community of Police and Sheriffs (T-COPS) (revised 2/2/2008)