PennDOT revises its controversial gender policy.
Both officers later tesified that they were under the impression that Taylor was a woman. But after seeing her driver’s license, Williams began referring to Taylor as a man. During his testimony he said: “I had a male driver’s license and well, I seen male driver’s license and I seen a female behind the wheel. I didn’t make the determination.”
Taylor was taken to the 35th Police District station on charges of driving a stolen vehicle. What happened to Taylor while in police custody is unclear, but a month after the incident she filed a citizen complaint against the Police Department alleging that she was “subjected to a pattern of offensive and inflammatory verbal abuse while being processed” at the precinct. The complaint further stated that the abuse was based “entirely on her status as a transgender person.”
The alleged harassment included Officer Antoine Leslie telling a female officer who was questioning Taylor: “That’s not a woman, that motherfucker is a man.” And an unidentified officer in street clothes asking Taylor, “What the fuck are you looking at? You’re the fucking cross-dresser or you’re a fag-assed man in woman’s clothes.”
It was and is standard procedure to place suspected transgender criminals in cells by themselves. However, according to PAC documents, on this particular night, Leslie claimed to have “no empties for the motherfucker. I’ll put this bitch in [cell] number 10, with whoever is in [cell] number 10.” While walking Taylor to the back, Leslie opened a desk drawer, took out a wrapped condom, gave it to an “apparently relatively inexperienced officer,” and told him to take the condom to the back and “watch and see what goes on.”
The PAC would later conclude that Leslie’s actions were “primarily motivated by his own prejudice against Ms. Taylor’s transgender status, or against transgender persons in general.” Further, “the other three instances of verbal abuse by Officer Leslie consisted of gender-based remarks, specifically and clearly aimed at ridiculing Ms. Taylor’s transgender lifestyle.”
Officers in the station that night denied seeing any abuse or hearing profanity. Nevertheless, the PAC concluded that the officers were “less than candid,” and recommended that they be repremanded. The PPD rejected PAC’s rulings and said that taking action against the officers would be “unfair, unjust, unreasonable and unjustifiable.”
Lawyers for the then-Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, mentioned in PAC documents, were contacted, though when called for comment had no recollection of the case. Amara Chaudhry of the Mazzoni Center says the most updated information available concerning the case is the hearing in front of the PAC in 2000. She says such cases are rarely brought to trial because of transgender individuals’ fear of having their personal issues brought up by defense lawyers. In addition, the prosecution has to “show the municipality has failed to train these police officers, failed to supervise and failed to do anything about it.”
Taylor could not be reached for comment by press time.
Philadelphia LGBT activist and government worker Kathy Padilla is, like Finnegan and Taylor, one of an estimated 3 million transgender people in the United States. She says PennDOT’s recent change in policy was totally necessary. “With the new [post-9/11] rules, everything has to match … who wants to get pulled over by the wrong police officer on a dark road?”
Padilla has been advocating on transgender issues since 1984, when she began volunteering at the Outreach Institute of Gender Studies in Provincetown, Mass. She came to Philadelphia about 15 years ago and has since served on Gov. Ed Rendell’s transition team, was a commissioner of the PAC and a member of Mayor Michael Nutter’s LGBT Advisory Board. She also worked with the Obama administration’s transition team and wrote and published a paper on transition issues for Change.gov.
In spite of Padilla’s and others’ work, as well as the progress that’s been made, Pennsylvania remains behind the times. House Bill 300, which would add transgender individuals to employment anti-discrimination policies in the state, has been stalled since 2009. Perhaps most ironic, considering PennDOT’s progress, is SEPTA’s lack of it.
As has been massively reported, SEPTA has continually blocked transgender individuals’ and others’ requests for the removal of gender markers on its Transpasses. Riders Against Gender Exclusion have held rallies and protests continually over the past two years, most recently this spring with a drag-show event at Suburban Station in which several members of RAGE spoke out against what they call SEPTA’s discriminatory policies. RAGE has claimed “harassment, economic hardship, and lack of access to public transportation due to this policy,” according to its Facebook page.
RAGE claims the gender-sticker requirement by SEPTA has forced its transit workers to become “gender police.” Members of RAGE met with SEPTA General Manager Joe Casey last fall but it failed to bring about a change in policy. A community forum is currently in the works to take place Oct. 20 at Philadelphia FIGHT, in which a SEPTA riders’ Bill of Rights will be drafted.
RAGE member Nico Amador says that while there has been “no new news” this summer regarding getting M/F stickers taken off Transpasses, “I think [PennDOT’s new policy] is a positive thing to say the least. It shows that other transportation agencies are taking transgender identity issue seriously.”
Ted Martin of EqualityPA agrees. “We of course have encouraged SEPTA and the Pittsburgh Port Authority to do the same thing [as PennDOT],” he says. “Obviously if the state department can do it with passports and the state can do it with drivers licenses and all these other places can do it without issue, it’s certainly something they can pay attention to.” There are no plans, as of yet, for EqualityPA to move for an official policy change with SEPTA.
Padilla says discrimination doesn’t stop there. Since no national or state laws exist that would protect transgender individuals from employment discrimination, many end up jobless and homeless. When this becomes the case, transgender individuals can be denied places in single-gender shelters because of their condition. “There are official policies against [shelter denial] in Philadelphia,” she says, “but policy and reality often contradict each other … Just because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, that doesn’t mean racism stopped.”
Backlash to PennDOT’s policy change was quick and predictable. The American Family Association of Pennsylvania said of transgender people and the policy following the Aug. 25 change, “Those are individuals who are confused about which sex they are; they say they are born in the wrong body … And so PennDOT is going to allow these individuals to basically choose whichever sex they want on their driver’s license and state-issued identification cards.”
The AFA claims its main concern is with bathrooms and showers and Diane Gramley, AFA Pennsylvania president, blames our state’s politicians for failing to stop PennDOT from changing its policy. “Rather than try to counsel these people,” she said, “[politicians are] affirming the lifestyle they’ve chosen.”
“Does your local YMCA or pool require photo ID?” another article from the site asks. “If so, then if a man comes in wanting to use the women’s locker/shower room, and he presents a driver’s license which says he is a woman these facilities must allow him to use the women’s locker room!”
AFA of Pennsylvania released “Action Steps” for rescinding this policy, including contacting your state senator, representative and PennDOT. “Let’s see just how interested they are to hear from you about THIS issue,” the action steps read. AFA of PA also warns its readers about Pennsylvania HB 300, which would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and make it illegal to discriminate with regard to “employment, housing and public accommodation” based on “gender identity or expression.”
Geek Invasion 2013