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Utah police to undergo transgender training

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A normal traffic stop lasts no more than 10 or 15 minutes. Especially a routine stop because of a faulty taillight. However, that was not the experience for John Smith (name has been changed).

“Everything was going fine and normal until the officer took my information back to his car, where he pulled my records,” Smith said about the incident, which occurred in 2003.

The officer would have seen on his records that Smith used to have a different first name. And a different gender. He was not born a biological man and his old name was obviously female.

“That’s where the mistreatment began,” Smith said. “He grilled me. I was polite and courteous. He was rude and abrasive. But the mistreatment didn’t start until he had found my records.”

Smith said he was delayed more than hour for a faulty taillight. He did not have any reason to be detained. There were no warrants for arrest or any other reason for the officer to suspect him of wrongdoing.

“I didn’t file any complaint with the police,” Smith said. “I just want to get to work and go home without being bothered. I don’t want to expose myself to more possible mistreatment or prejudice,” he said.

Smith’s experience is far too common, said Christopher Scuderi, executive director of Transgender Education Advocates of Utah (TEA).  This is why he, along with his wife, Teinamarrie Scuderi, associate director of TEA of Utah, are working closely with the Unified Police Department (UPD) to develop a training video for law enforcement. While the video is still in the scripting phase, Christopher and Teinamarrie have high hopes for the training.

“The video is essentially Trans 101,” Christopher said. “It will cover everything from how to handle routine traffic stops to where to place people that are transgender when they are arrested.”

The video is being produced in close association with the UPD, whose representatives have been extremely receptive to TEA of Utah.

“Everyone at UPD has been great,” Teinamarrie said. “We don’t want to paint anyone in a bad light. We just want to help in any education opportunity possible.”

“The video will hopefully be out by this summer, but might take a little longer than that,” Christopher said.

“When the video is released it will hit the ground running,” he said. “Eventually all police officers in the state will receive the training, and all new members will too.”

The UPD is very supportive of any effort to train or educated the officers, said Lt. Justin Hoyal, of the UPD.

“We’re putting together this video to help educate our officers on the issues that the transgender population is facing,” Hoyal said.

While the exact wording or content of the video has not yet been established, the UPD and TEA of Utah are working together to come up with a video that would best maximize impact and training, Hoyal said.

This is not the first time TEA of Utah has helped to educate a business or agency. The education and advocacy group has helped train fortune 500 companies, small businesses and even educate individual families.

“We are not a support group,” Teinamarrie said. “We are an education and advocacy group.”

When there is a lack of training or education, people that interact with transgender people will often contact TEA for assistance. While many of the referrals come from Equality Utah or the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), TEA of Utah strives to respond to all advocacy needs or education opportunities.

“Some businesses contact us when someone working there is transitioning,” Teinamarrie said. “Most companies want to ask questions about things like how to work with restroom facilities.”

TEA also helps educate and speak with individual families. When family members find out someone they love is transgender, there are a lot of concerns, Teinamarrie said.

“The most common concern is that their son or daughter won’t find someone to love,” Teinamarrie said. “We want to help families see that Trans people are just as likely to find love as someone else.”

TEA of Utah is also an advocate force. For example, when there are issues about changing the gender marker on a driver’s license, TEA of Utah can get involved and assist. Another example might be a department store that won’t allow a person that is transgender to use dressing rooms or even purchase clothing.

To request help, simply go to the website, www.TEAofUtah.org and fill out a request. All submissions are confidential.

“We can’t help people if we don’t know they’re having problems,” Christopher said.

Christopher and Teinamarrie started TEA of Utah in 2003 because they didn’t see any advocacy or education groups for transgender individuals in Utah.

“Being Trans is very different than being gay,” Teinamarrie said. “There’s a lot more to fear.”

To volunteer for, or be involved with, the Transgender Awareness Month in November, TEA of Utah meets every third Thursday of every month at the Equality Utah offices at 5:30 p.m.

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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