Scenarios for police that demonstrate how outing Transgender persons can lead to anti-trans violence or discrimination in our workplace
Transgender Day of Remembrance, November 20, recognizes and honours those who have been killed due to ignorance and hatred, targeted because they were trans or gender non-conforming.
As police officers and law enforcement employees we have a responsibility to educate ourselves about trans issues and the risk to the health and safety of transgender folks should we disclose a person’s status as transgender.
Please read the two scenarios provided below, one related to police work and another related to working with a transgender person in any workplace, which will help you to understand the risks associated to disclosing transgender status.
You are on general duty and make a vehicle stop for a driving infraction. The car is occupied by a male passenger in the front seat along with a female driver. The driver tells you their name is Stephanie however; the drivers license they produce indicates they are a male named Stephen. How do you respond? You decide to issue a ticket for the infraction, what name do you use to issue the ticket?
As a rule, it’s a good idea to refrain from initially addressing anyone using a gender pronoun until you have determined what their preference is. An opening statement like, “good evening ma’am/sir” can be cause for embarrassment or confusion for both of you should your perception not match the reality. A simple, “hello/good evening-day” to start will prevent unknowingly insulting or disrespecting a person’s gender identity. Ask the person their name and refer to them by the name that they provided you, in this case Stephanie.
Once you have determined that you will issue a ticket, there are a couple of things to consider:
What name will you use on the infraction? This one is easy, by law you must use the name that is indicated on the person’s drivers licence.
How will you address this fact? In this case, because there is a passenger, you do not want to publically reveal the fact that the driver is transgender or that their DL says they are a male named Stephen, but you also want to explain the legality of using the name on the driver’s license when writing the infraction.
Outing someone as transgender could put them at risk for violence or a hate crime. In this case the passenger might not have any idea that their friend is trans and learning that could result in an angry or violent response putting the driver or yourself at risk.
Explain that you will be issuing a ticket and request the driver exit the vehicle to speak to you privately. Once you are away from the passenger, discretely acknowledge that the DL indicates they are male with a different name and confirm with them that they are transgender. Once confirmed, explain that legally you are obligated to issue the ticket using the name on the DL.
If she is apprehensive or does not want to exit the vehicle, ask her if it’s okay to talk about a personal matter in front of her passenger. She will determine what is comfortable for her. A transgender person will often refer to their old name as their “dead name” - if you use that term when speaking to them, it will signal that you understand and will garner respect and appreciation from the trans person. “I do not want to use your dead name verbally, in case it makes you uncomfortable, however by law I must use the name that is on your driver’s licence to issue the ticket”.
Disclosing, gossiping or joking about transgender colleagues or trans persons in general, could be considered discrimination or harassment and could lead to violence and hate. Don’t do it.
You are a team lead for a unit. The team is waiting for the arrival of a new member coming in from a different Division. At a team meeting, you disclose that the new arrival is due in about a month’s time and you also give the team a heads-up that they are transgender. You remind everyone that they need to treat that person with respect and dignity. Was this the right thing to do?
The short answer is, no. While the team lead in this case appears to have good intentions in reminding folks that discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated, the fact is…. a person’s status as transgender is personal and confidential. Disclosing such information may be a violation under the Privacy Act.
If a person is transitioning in the workplace they may decide to tell their colleagues. They might tell people in person (individually or in groups), by email, by phone or ask their manager to tell people for them. If this is the case, employees can feel free to talk to the individual about their announcement however, gossiping and joking is a violation of privacy and potentially your services conduct policy.
In this case, the new person coming to the Division, may not have had any idea that the information was shared and may not have wanted it to be shared.
The result of this disclosure could mean that upon arrival, colleagues who are not familiar with transgender issues or perhaps have never met a trans person will simply avoid the new member because they are uncomfortable or afraid of doing/saying the wrong thing.
Avoiding the trans person will not only make it uncomfortable for everyone but that action could lead them to believe that they are being discriminated against or harassed. They may become angry, withdrawn or suffer from depression or anxiety.
Disclosure in this case, can also lead to explicit harassment or discrimination by employees who are uninformed or ignorant to the realities of the trans experience. We remind you that transgender folks are protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
For managers and supervisors, the topic of an employees trans status should not be discussed with anyone unless the trans person has made that request to you. The team lead should have waited for the new transfer to arrive, talked to them about their expectations for their work environment, discussing their trans status only if they bring it up.
*Thanks to the RCMP O Division 2SLGBTQ+ Employee Network for developing the scenarios and sharing them with us.