After spat, groups press ahead on transgender police order

Thu. April 19, 2012 8:23 AM by Gary Barlow

Chicago, IL - Despite a disagreement over tactics that boiled over April 16, groups that have been working to get a comprehensive order on the books detailing how Chicago police interact with transgenders are expressing hope that they will achieve their goal soon.

A coalition of community groups led by the Lakeview Action Coalition has been working since June 2010 to reach agreement with Chicago Police Department officials on the new police order, which would disallow police searches just to determine a person's gender. Advocates of the order also aim for it to prohibit demeaning language by officers, stipulate that transgenders be referred to according to their preferred gender, not be subjected to more frequent or invasive searches than other individuals, create a "transgender" ID box on police forms, specify that transgenders not be transported or jailed with non-transgender detainees and require police to respond when transgender detainees request medical attention.

In addition to LAC and its partner, The Night Ministry, the initial group who began negotiations with CPD included June LaTrobe, vice chair of Illinois Gender Advocates and transgender community liaison at the Center on Halsted, the late Lois Bates, who served as transgender health manager at Howard Brown Health Center before her death in November 2011, and Equality Illinois board member Christina Karhl. The effort has grown with backing from many more groups, among them Lambda Legal, The Civil Rights Agenda and others, and was also officially supported last year by the Chicago Commission on Human Relations' Advisory Council on LGBT Issues, which has since been disbanded as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's reorganization of city government.

The negotiations with CPD had been fruitful, advocates said in January 2011 at a presentation to ACLGBTI, but former Mayor Richard M. Daley's decision to retire, which meant that then-CPD Supt. Jody Weis would be moving on as well last spring, delayed progress. But advocates say that following Emanuel's appointment of Garry McCarthy to replace Weis last May and McCarthy's subsequent reorganization of CPD leadership, negotiations were again progressing well.

"With the change in police and new people, things actually got better," Karhl said April 18.

That sentiment was echoed this week by LaTrobe and LAC Executive Director Jennifer Ritter.

"The police aren't always good at coming to the table but they've been good about coming to the table on this," Ritter said. "We do have good people at the Police Department."

The disagreement over tactics grew out of TCRA's effort to get the Chicago City Council to pass an ordinance mandating the new police order.

Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, said TCRA felt that progress in the negotiations with police was moving too slowly.

"Progress was being made in certain respects, but talks were still stalled," Martinez said. "Emanuel had said he wanted to get it done but McCarthy was still dragging his feet."

To spur quicker action TCRA enlisted 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno to sponsor such an ordinance in January. After consultations with 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney and city officials, Moreno introduced the ordinance in March. But by then, with input from police and City Hall, the proposed ordinance had been significantly watered down. The ordinance as introduced, LaTrobe, Karhl and Ritter said, would not achieve the desired effect.

"We want to get the right thing on the books," Ritter said. "The big issue is enforcement. The accountability in place (in the ordinance) is problematic."

They said that they conveyed that message to Martinez in a meeting April 12. But in a subsequent meeting involving some of the advocates April 16, tempers flared after Equality Illinois leaders said they, as well as Center on Halsted and Lambda Legal officials, were withdrawing support for the ordinance. Shortly after that meeting, EI issued a press release detailing their stance on the ordinance.

The EI press release specifically mentioned that they disagreed with Martinez and TCRA on the ordinance. That raised Martinez's ire.

"That's not fair," Martinez said. "I was not told this press release was coming out."

EI and TCRA have had a rancorous relationship but it has rarely surfaced in such a public manner.

"I feel like I was personally attacked," Martinez said. "I was affronted."

Karhl said the press release was meant to publicly distance EI and others from the proposed ordinance. The ongoing negotiations with CPD, she said, have gone far beyond the requirements contained in the proposed ordinance.

"Right now, as it is written, it would undermine two years of work with the police," Karhl said. "It would essentially subvert everything we've done."

Ritter seconded that point.

"I do reiterate that we were not against any sort of ordinance happening," she said. "This is just not that ordinance."

All parties said they believe everyone wants to achieve the same goal.

"Everybody wants the right result," Karhl said. "Everybody should be on the right side and I think everybody is on the right side."

Martinez said that's the desire of TCRA as well.

"Our effort was to support LAC," he said.

Karhl, Ritter and LaTrobe said they are focused on continuing negotiations with CPD.

"The issue is getting things done," LaTrobe said. "I am a total pragmatist. We've been working and we feel we've had productive meetings with the Police Department. In reality, we'd prefer to continue working with the Police Department."

And Ritter added that while the sparring between TCRA and EI is a distraction -- "I don't think conflict is helpful," she said -- she is optimistic about the negotiations because CPD officials also want to come up with a good policy.

"Where we're at is that LAC has been working with the police," she said. "I am hopeful that we will know very soon whether the police will give us a policy that protects transgender people."