Citizen Award Turns to Talk of Transgender Respect (video)

Citizen Award Turns to Talk of Transgender Respect (video)

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Feb. 24, 2014)

When Victor Walker called the Ferndale Police to report a suspected purse thief back in January, he referred to the suspect as a gallowaycollens1woman.  Yet when police arrived they addressed the suspect as a man in spite of their feminine presentation.  The experience left an impression on Walker.  So much so that when he was recognized publicly for assisting police, he used the opportunity to talk about transgender rights and respect.

At Monday night’s City Council meeting, Ferndale Police Chief Timothy Collins described Walker’s honorable actions before presenting him with a certificate of achievement.

“We had an individual that had stolen a purse from Pinwheel Bakery in Downtown Ferndale.  Their credit card was used at other businesses throughout the Downtown area.  So we went to all the businesses on 9 Mile and explained the situation. He [the officer] gave a very detailed description of the subject.

“Mr. Walker, who works at Affirmations in Downtown Ferndale, recognized an individual that matched that description and contacted the Ferndale Police Department.  He was stopped by us and found to have things on his person that were [in] that stolen purse… He also had some credit cards in his possession and in pride2014adsimilar cases were used throughout the Downtown.

“Because of Mr. Walker’s action we were able to obtain warrants for the suspect for receiving and concealing stolen property and also fraudulent use of financial transaction devices.  We found that the suspect was twice previously convicted of crimes in Downtown Ferndale and is very likely that he would continue had it not been for Mr. Walker,” Chief Collins said.

Walker graciously thanked Chief Collins for the honor, but then gave an unexpected speech.

“When I called the Ferndale Police Department to tell them this person I believed they were looking for had returned to my place of work, I did so because I believed that someone in the community had been wronged and it was my opportunity to call.

“When I saw the suspect they presented what I perceived to be a woman, though they were repeatedly referred to as male.  I didn’t ask how they identified their gender, or which pronouns they preferred to use while referring to them.  I work at Affirmations, which means that we try our best to create safe spaces for everyone.moderntax

“As law enforcement agents I’m sure that you have to refer to people by their legal designation, so I understand that.  But you also know that the City of Ferndale has adopted a very progressive Human Rights Organization that protects all members of our human family.  And so I just want to take a look at this and make sure that when we are interacting with people who are accused of crimes that we sincerely include the Human Rights Ordinance when referring to them.

“We are changing. Times are changing, and sometimes the language doesn’t match what we feel, what our duties are.  But I think this is a moment to pause and take a look at that Human Rights Ordinance that is before its time across the state, and be sure that we are including every member of our community”

Mayor Dave Coulter said his comments were “well said,” and thanked him again.

Following the meeting Chief Collins said that his department has a strong relationship with Affirmations, the LGBT community center. “We send officers over every year to talk with the community about the BTLWeddingExpo_144x360protocols we have to follow,” he said.  “We do the best we can to address them how they present.  We try to treat people the way they want to be treated. When there’s a subject in a crime, that situation has to be described in real terms.  If it’s a male suspect wearing a dress, description-wise that’s what we say because we need to be accurate, especially in crime situations we need to be consistent.”

As visibility and acceptance of transgender individuals becomes more common, police departments and other entities navigate how to treat people with respect.  Ferndale is one of over 30 municipalities across the state that has enacted a Human Rights Ordinance to protects LGBT individuals from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.  State-wide people can be fired, denied housing, and denied public accommodations because of being perceived to be gay or gender non-conforming.  The Unity Michigan Coalition, along with many others, have been working to encourage legislators to change the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act which already makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status.

Even for those who want to be allies, it can be challenging to know how to treat transgender people with respect.  GLAAD has come out with a guide on the subject, which can be found at http://www.glaad.org/transgender/allies.sharon chess thank you

“I’m grateful that the city recognized me for doing something that I think was my duty as a citizen anyhow,” Walker said. “It really is an honor. And it gives us a chance to have these conversations.” He added that the Ferndale Police have been great partners with Affirmations.  “This is such a great and supportive community to be in,” he said.

Another citizen was honored for her role in helping police track down a fellow employee who had stolen the number and PIN of an elderly man’s Bridge Card.  The recipient did not attend the meeting.

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