"The police often would often stop us while we were on the streets & call us 'fags' and ask 'why are you wearing a dress?' Now that I have a straight job, they still stop me to check my arms for needle marks, though I don't have any."
This is how Maria Roman, a tall 30-ish transexual and counselor at Bienestar, a Latina/o oriented program, described her experience in a cablecast June 6 panel of male-to-female and femal-to-male transexuals at the City of West Hollywood's Auditorium, part of its "Transgender Unity Week" events that ends June 9.
"Law enforcement wants us off the street, but most often, there is no place for us to go," Maria continued, "80-90 % of Latina Transsexuals like me do sex work because we have no viable option. Especially when you start to transition, you look a little weird, so who will hire you in a 'legit' job? Even though I left the street and now work as a beautician and am 'married', it has been a struggle. I almost dropped out of beauty college because of ridicule by straight students."
Shirley Bushnell, a counselor for transgenders and transexuals in Hollywood added "We trans people, male and female, just don't look like society expects us to look. The police often reflect this prejudice. Until three years ago, there was almost no formal communication between us and law enforcement. Now we do have a process, at least with the West Hollywood division of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department".
[On March 28 Bushnell led a group of about 50 transexuals and transgenders in a protest at the other major authority in the Hollywood area that many live, the Los Angeles Police Department, and dialogued with a captain.]
Connor McCann, a youthful female-to-male student at Cal State Northridge added "Transexual males may have an even harder time. We look so young as men, when we start transitioning. No one believes our stated age is correct."
Another male transexual,who moderated the panel, UCLA graduate student Masden Davis, said "Lack of ID that show the same gender is a great fear for us if we're stopped by police, and then we have to deal with officers calling us by the wrong pronouns."
Bushnell agreed, "For the last two years Masden and I have conducted two day sensitivity trainings for West Hollywood Sheriffs, including the issue of ID's and the use of the pronoun 'she' for female transexuals and 'he for male transexuals." This pronoun protocol is now the policy of the West Hollywood Sheriffs division.
As Michael Herndandez, a female-to-male attorney explained to another group of trans folk in Westchester last Saturday, the process of changing one's birth gender to the opposite, chosen one on driver's and professional licenses, Social Security and credit cards and other ID'S can be complicated and costly, requiring filing court petitions and appearing in court or before administrative agencies, a disquieting experience for many transsexuals. While this attorney explained how to fill out the court forms, he admitted that he had not done so himself, feeling it wasn't worth the hassle.
All of the West Hollywood panelist, many of whom will conduct another workshop this Saturday at the Sheriffs station as part of the weekend Trans Unity event, agreed that more sensitivity training is needed, not only for law enforcement, but also for other officials, such as school administrators and employers.
"As a counselor at Bienestar", Roman said, "I met a trans girl at Hollywood Hi who, like many other TS, will probably drop out of school because of harassment. Teachers who insist on calling her by her boy name only encourage this mishehavior by classmates."
McCann added, "The name calling starts in elementary school, which attitudes are probably learned from home and television."
Helen Wong of the Asian Pacifric AIDS Intervention Team, which tries to teach safe sex practice to "T's" in the nightclubs and on the streets, emphasized "Anti-TS attitudes often are ingrained in cultures, such as Asian-Pacific, the 2nd largest of our community in Los Angeles, after Latinas/os. We have to work with our own families also to gain acceptance."
Jeff Shevlowitz, a trans male founder of "Under Construction" support group, said "My mother just couldn't accept my change. She complained 'You killed my daughter', which in a sense, I did." So how can we expect different behavior form the police and other officials, the panel collectively wondered.
Roman concurred with Shevlowitz, "My mother often would touch me face and say 'Where's my son?', but now she's come around, even encouraging me to complete beauty school, and she and my brother and his wife were part of my wedding."
"We're not trying to scare anyone, we're just trying to be who we are", Wong concluded.
Besides this weekend's program and the annnual Pride Parade June 17 in West Hollywood, transgenders and transexuals are also scheduled to be featured on KCET's "Life and Times" and at another panel on police and employment problems at Los Angeles Radical Womens meeting June 21.