Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Public safety

India Clarke murder puts focus on transgender sensitivity training among Tampa Bay area law enforcement

When the St. Petersburg Police Department created an LGBT community liaison position a year ago, transgender advocates were the first to reach out.

They invited Lt. Markus Hughes to their annual downtown vigil, welcomed him to meetings, skeptically probed him about their fears. What will happen at a traffic stop? Will cops assume they're prostitutes?

"They are worried about not being respected for who they are," Hughes said. "I don't think officers want to treat people poorly or disrespect them. I just think it's a lack of knowledge in certain areas."

For local transgender advocates, getting law enforcement agencies to adopt inclusive policies is a work in progress. None of the largest Tampa Bay agencies have specific transgender sensitivity training, including the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, which along with local media, was lambasted for misreporting the gender identity of a victim of homicide this week.

India Clarke, 25, was found dead Tuesday in a North Tampa park. Initial reports referenced her given name, Samuel Elijah Clarke, and said she was a man found in women's clothing, despite friends and family sharing that she'd identified as female for years.

Based on anatomy, the medical examiner determined India Clarke was male, said Dick Bailey, spokesman for that office. Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said his agency follows similar protocol when sharing information about a victim or suspect.

Sheriff's policy forbids making "vulgar or derogatory remarks" based on "sexual and gender orientation," among other categories, such as race and religion. But the agency does not specifically train its officers on LGBT issues.

McKinnon said the Sheriff's Office doesn't support singling out one sector of the LGBT community; he likened it to providing special protection for one religious sect but not another.

Advocates argue, however, that once law enforcement officials know a person's chosen gender, they should adhere to it. McKinnon's updates on Clarke's murder have never referred to her as female.

Last month in Tampa, the Department of Justice offered training to Central Florida law enforcement agencies. It was part of a larger effort launched last year by the U.S. Attorney General's Office to educate law enforcement officers about the transgender community.

Eleven people, both LGBT advocates and law enforcement officers, attended. Representatives from the Tampa and St. Petersburg police departments and the Hernando County Sheriff's Office were there. The sheriff's offices of Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties did not attend.

Gina Duncan, the transgender inclusion director for Equality Florida, said the training won't help if agencies don't utilize it.

Frank Roder, co-chairman of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, attended the workshop. His group focuses primarily on improving attitudes toward LGBT students in schools, but when the organization held its own training session for educators on Wednesday, the Tampa Police Department sent nine school resource officers.

The Tampa Police Department has three LGBT liaisons, and the department plans to add gender identity to its policy on searching inmates and its department's diversity training.

Roder said that when the discussion turned to transgender issues — and India Clarke's slaying — officers were unsure which words to use, but asked many questions, such as how to address a person whose gender expression differed from the name on their driver's license.

They all agreed respect was a priority, Roder said.

"It opened up some eyes," he said. "Respect is respect. If you don't respect somebody, they won't respect you."

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office does not have LGBT-specific training, but does offer their deputies and correctional officers training for how to handle LGBT inmates. That will be expanded in August, a spokeswoman said.

Two officials from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office also attended the DOJ training session. Sgt. Cinda Lillibridge hopes to become the agency's internal trainer on LGBT issues, but is still in the process of becoming certified.

Karen and Linda Schrader, a married couple from Spring Hill, said they're willing to serve as transgender-sensitivity trainers for the Hernando sheriff's office, once the agency becomes certified.

Schrader, 54, has experienced the need for such training firsthand. In June last year, she was pulled over by a law enforcement official in Hernando County for a seat belt violation — her dress was caught in the buckle, and it became unfastened.

The officer acted politely toward her, she said. But when she saw the ticket he gave her, it identified her as male, even though her driver's license listed her as female.

"It comes down to a matter of respect," Schrader said. "I'm a transgender woman, period. I don't care what I was born."

Contact Katie Mettler at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @kemettler.

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