The U.S. Department of Justice launched a program on Thursday to educate local police departments to better understand and act on issues affecting transgender people.
“It’s clear that such a training is as necessary as it is overdue,” Associate Attorney General Tony West said. “Because too often, in too many places, we know that transgender victims are discouraged from reporting hate crimes and hate violence due to their past negative interactions with and perceptions of law enforcement.”
The program will be overseen by the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service, which works to prevent and respond to hate crimes. Lesson plans include suggestions for addressing school bullying, and lists of do’s and don’ts, with don’ts including using terms like “transvestite” and asking whether a transgender person has had “sex reassignment” or “sex change” surgery.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole said that “the [transgender] community’s fears about law enforcement’s support and perceptions” prevent them from reporting acts of anti-transgender violence, a situation he described as unacceptable.
“This is not a result that can or will be tolerated by the Department of Justice, and it runs counter to the very role your community public safety officials want to promote,” Cole said.
For many years, transgender rights advocates have criticized how the nation’s police departments have addressed hate crimes against transgender people.
“Cops will deal with trans folks and assume because you’re trans, then in some kind of way you’ve caused this kind of violence on you,” said Tiq Milan, a spokesman for advocacy group GLAAD.
Harper Jean Tobin, policy director at the National Center for Transgender Equality, helped to design the program but said there is still more work that will need to be done in order to fix the problems between transgender people and America’s police departments.
“You can’t train your way out of this problem. It’s one piece of the puzzle. It’s one tool that we can use,” she said.