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SoCal sheriffs dept. focuses on transgender rights

For nearly a year, local gay, lesbian and transgender activists have been working with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in Southern California to come up with a policy on how to treat transgender suspects when they’re arrested and incarcerated. Riverside County would join other locales like San Francisco and Los Angeles in having such a policy.

Now that work is coming to fruition, with the Sheriff’s office reviewing its current policies and drafting a new set of guidelines.

Such a policy could set a precedent in other counties that don’t have one, since Riverside County has the second largest sheriff’s department in the state, with a staff of over 4,000.

“We have worked with members of the community who were great, who gave us some examples of what other communities have used, so that’s been put in the review process,” says Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Raymond Gregory.

Gregory’s job title alone shows how far law enforcement has come in dealing with LGBT issues. He is officially the department’s “LGBT Liaison.” Sheriff Stan Smith gets high marks from many in the community for creating such a position and appointing an openly gay man to fill it. And Gregory in turn credits Palm Springs activists like George Zander, of Equality California, and Geoff Kors, of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, for pointing out the need for such a position.

Working for transgender rights is one of the next frontiers for the LGBT community, now that same-sex marriage seems to be a fait du accompli nationwide.

According to UCLA’s Williams Institute, which studies LGBT issues, 0.3% of the adult population is transgender, meaning the gender they identify with is not the gender they were assigned at birth.

That can pose a challenge when they’re arrested, searched and incarcerated, which is why transgender activists like Thomi Clinton of Desert Hot Springs have been working with the Sheriff’s Department for a specific policy.

“The policy is about how to address trans people when you meet them, how you process them,” Clinton says. “We want mutual dignity and respect.”

Another transgender activist, Devin Payne of Palm Springs, says, “A lot of the cities we have here transfer to Riverside County because we don’t have a jail. Riverside County doesn’t have a new policy in place for the new jail they’re building.”

Payne has enlisted support from the Palm Springs chapter of the powerful Human Rights Campaign, with its 1.5 million members. There is also a petition on “change.org” to nudge the Sheriff’s Department to implement its new policies soon.

Because transgender people are often targets of attack, Chief Deputy Gregory says when it’s possible, “They put them in smaller, maybe two person cells … we try to put them together as long as it is safe for all of them together.” Formalizing protections like that into a policy is what activists want.

In addition, Gregory says, “We’re looking at some language that looks at asking a person who they would want to be searched by in a non-emergency situation.

“There are already a number of policies under review right now, especially under PRIA, the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.”

In fact, this is such a priority that the Department just applied for and received a federal grant for a Sheriff’s employee to work on these issues.

As to when a final policy will take effect? Chief Deputy Gregory says, “We’re working with legal. We think we’ll be ready to put together something for the Sheriff in a few months.”

That can’t come soon enough for LGBT activists who have been fighting for this cause. ###