Monday, November 30, 2009

The Bountiful PD Has a Transgender Officer... And Offers Some Hope for More LGBT Supportive Police

I found a great story in today's Salt Lake Tribune, one I wish I could read in the paper more often.

As a child, Kerry Bell dreamed of growing up to become a policeman -- both a police officer and a man.
Becoming a cop was relatively simple -- Bell joined the Bountiful Police Department 14 years ago. Becoming a man took more time.
Born female, Bell came out as transgender about a year and a half ago and started a transition to a new life as a man. He always had felt male, but did not think switching genders was a viable option until he saw transgender people gaining wider acceptance, along with advances in medical technology.
Surprisingly, the 42-year-old -- working in what many perceive as a super-macho culture -- says he did not fret about telling the police chief or his co-workers to start referring to him as "he," not "she."
"I wasn't worried about coming out at work," says Bell, who has had hormone treatments and surgeries. "I've worked for Bountiful for 14 years. I know everybody I work with."
Although some employees have trouble remembering to use masculine pronouns, Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross says, "everyone's done a great job of accepting Kerry and staying focused on why we're here in the first place."
Bell, a corporal and SWAT member, is a "well-rounded police officer," Ross adds. "We're glad that he works here."

As we've talked about before, transgender people still face horrible burdens of discrimination. It's worse here in Nevada where our state anti-discrimination laws don't cover gender identity, and even worse in Utah where their state has no anti-LGBT-inclusive discrimination laws whatsoever. So it's really encouraging to see more LGBT police officers come out in Utah and serve proudly.

And honestly, it's good to see more police departments forge good relationships with the community for a change.

That many LGBT officers now serve openly at several Utah law-enforcement agencies speaks volumes to how far society has progressed, says Salt Lake City Capt. Kyle Jones, a founding member of the [LGBT Public Safety Committee].
"Twenty years ago, they wouldn't have been [welcome]," says Jones, who was inspired to get involved with the LGBT community after his son came out as gay. "The current crop of officers, by and large, don't give it a second thought."
Jones, along with other committee members, recruits potential new officers at the annual Utah Pride Festival for the Salt Lake City Police Department.
"Our department has tried for years to recruit from the populations that we represent," Jones says. "Anywhere from 8 to 12 percent of [Salt Lake City] is thought to be LGBT so we should have 8 to 12 percent of our cops who are LGBT."

Long before Stonewall, our LGBT community has had a rocky relationship with the cops at best. One need not look further than the recent Fort Worth bar raids and Newport Beach Police homophobia scandal to see that tensions still exist and many queer folk still think they have good reason not to trust the cops.

Hopefully with more LGBT police officers joining the ranks and police departments becoming more accepting of this, the often antagonistic relationship between the police and the community can change. It needs to if our community is to trust the police to be our public servants and keep us safe as well.

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