Back the Blue, Pink, and White: Trans Cops as Factors in the Criminal Legal System
Much of the discussion surrounding LGBTQ people and the criminal legal system focuses on criminalization. This is of course for good reason as LGBTQ people, and more specifically trans people, experience disparate treatment. Trans people are disproportionately likely to be arrested and incarcerated when compared to cisgendered, heterosexual people. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey shows reports of frequent harassment, profiling, and abuse from police. The criminalization of poverty and homelessness along with the high rates of poverty among the trans community puts low income trans individuals at an increased risk of police interaction. Trans people of color face not only anti-transgender bias but structural racism from the criminal legal system. While it is clear that trans people are forced into a vulnerable position by institutions created without them in mind, some trans people are attempting to make change from the inside.
Although there is no national database to count the entire population, more police officers than ever are coming out as transgender. The Transgender Community of Police and Sheriffs(TCOPS), a private online group, has over 6,000 members from across the world. Approximately 3,700 of those members live in the United States. The majority of TCOPS members aren’t out to their departments and discuss the struggles of being trans while on the force. Many trans police officers fear violent retaliation from their cis coworkers. These fears are rooted in an unfortunate and cruel reality. Nearly one in ten trans people have been physically attacked within the past year. Coupled with the surge of anti-trans legislation, transphobic violence is on the rise. Despite these fears, trans officers report pride in both their gender identity and their work as police officers.
Police departments around the country have publicly embraced their gay and trans officers. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department released an employee guide to specifically address the concerns and rights of their transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary workers. Many of the larger departments in metropolitan areas have LGBTQ liaison programs to foster better relationships between queer communities and the police. Mandatory cultural competency training for cops have begun to include LGBTQ training modules. Trans employees, like gay and lesbian officers, are slowly being accepted into the blue fold. Government agencies and department chairs believe it is important to stand by trans officers because they reflect the changing times. As the number of trans people increases in the general population, police departments must change to reflect this new reality. There is optimism amongst trans officers who point to the burgeoning wave of LGBTQ inclusion and its positive impacts on cop culture.
Trans officers also go through an additional plight: rejection from other trans people. Pride events in several cities have banned police officers. New York City Pride, one of the largest Gay pride events in the world, banned uniformed officers until 2025. This move came at the heels of the George Floyd Uprising of 2020 where police brutality took center stage. LGBTQ officers were offended by this decision and expressed feelings of isolation. Anti-cop sentiment amongst LGBTQ people creates a tumultuous incongruity for trans officers. They feel wrongly shunned by their queer brethren who are at the vanguard of a community supposedly based in welcoming acceptance. How can you truly embrace everyone if you exclude trans and gay officers?
But to be fair, it is hard to accept someone who willfully joins an occupation known for killing members of your community. Pride itself celebrates a rebellion against police brutality and exploitation.
The question becomes plain: Does having well treated trans cops matter if civilian trans folks are still subjected to brutality? Some can rightfully argue that having trans officers on the force improves representation for marginalized people. If an officer can humanize a fellow cop who happens to be trans, the logic goes that they that they might extend that humanization to the trans sex worker they encounter on patrol.
The results of this reasoning have yet to be seen.