Ain't I a Woman?
Whatever Happened to Equal Rights?
By Joni Kay Rose
A Santa Fe County woman pled guilty to misdemeanor charges of impersonating a police officer on Friday, May 28, in return for probation and community service. Police said in August that she pulled someone over using flashing lights and a bullhorn. She attributes her lapse in judgment to "an unrecognized psychological obsession, brought on by many years of wanting to be a police officer."
The case might have attracted little attention were the accused not transgender. At the conclusion of KRQE's Nov. 25 account of the case, a reporter pointed out that in 2000, “she took a year off with pay from her job as a school teacher to have a sex-change operation."
The Santa Fe New Mexican trumpeted the headline "Transsexual faces charges of police impersonation.” The article describes her as a "former male high school art teacher in Westchester County, N.Y., who caused a stir in 2000 when she took the school year off with pay to have a sex-change operation." What does that have to do with the charges against the defendant? Nothing, but it sensationalizes the story—and creates a climate of prejudice against her. Had she been Hispanic, or even a lesbian, would the media emphasize that fact?
The Journal North went a step further: "A grand jury has indicted a Santa Fe transvestite accused of driving around town pretending to be a police officer." And further: "He also told officers 'that he dresses as a full-blown woman and wants to be called a woman as well. He was pretty clear with the officers about that,' ” State Police spokesperson Lt. Eric Garcia is quoted as saying.
The manner in which this defendant was treated—and during a time of mourning for our murdered brothers and sisters—is an attack on the transgender community.
Transvestite? He? Did the defendant have sex-reassignment surgery in 2000 or not? Is she legally male or female? Does it matter? The Associated Press guidelines state people are to be referred to according to their genders of presentation.
But that rule of thumb doesn't hold for the State Police. In an interview with me, Garcia repeats what he told the paper: “He wanted to be called a she."
If those who are supposed to uphold the law are biased against transgender people, what about the general public? Ugly caricatures of the defendant, some obscene, have appeared on the Internet. No wonder she wanted to avoid a jury trial.
Though she did an interview with me, she didn’t want her name in this column. She says: "I've been legally female since 2000."
She's been living as a woman for a decade and is married to a man, which wouldn't be legal if she weren't female. Summing up the prevailing view from the trans community, LGBT activist Virginia Johnson says, "Transgender people need to be addressed by the appropriate labels for who we are."
The defendant says she is a dedicated transgender activist. “The public discriminatory attack on my character and status in the community was a rabid assault on all transgender community members."
She was indicted in November during Transgender Awareness Week, when events are held as reminders that transpeople are human, too. Even in the Duke City, a Remembering Our Dead memorial service was held on Nov. 22 for transgender folks who'd been murdered during the past year, including two in Albuquerque.
From the very beginning 10 years ago, the Transgender Day of Remembrance has emphasized that hate crimes occur with increasing frequency and are encouraged by a climate of bigotry. The manner in which this defendant was treated—and during a time of mourning for our murdered brothers and sisters—is an attack on the transgender community.
In 2003, New Mexico passed civil rights legislation outlawing discrimination in employment and housing on the basis of gender identity. It also forbids "any person or employer to: aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce the doing of any discriminatory practice." Unfortunately, the law lacks effective enforcement.
Were New Mexico truly the progressive state it's purported to be—where all citizens have equal rights under the law regardless of gender presentation—the Santa Fe woman would have been treated exactly the same as any other woman accused of a similar crime, with no mention of these irrelevant details from her past. Clearly, New Mexico has a very long way to go before equal justice under the law becomes a reality.
A therapist since 1985, Joni Kay Rose has been published in local and national periodicals. She wrote The Joy Beyond Craving in 2003. A second book, Over the Gender Rainbow , will come out later this year.
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