Post submitted by Mykal Shannon, HRC Fellow at the Freedom Center for Social Justice
On March 27, 2014 at approximately 7:30 am, I was walking through Union Station for the very first time. It is still just as vivid as it was that day. As I passed all the shops I could feel a surge of anticipation and there it was; as I approached the exit doors at the main entrance I could see the White House. It was official, I was in Washington, D.C. I immediately stopped and took pictures and although I appeared to be your typical tourist, I was on a mission. I was headed to the U.S. Department of Justice Conference Center to witness as the world expanded just a bit more, the acknowledgement and embrace of the need for change.
I am Mykal Shannon, a transman of faith and the HRC Fellow for 2014. As the recipient of such an opportunity, I have been assigned the position of Conference Coordinator for the Transgender Faith and Action Network at the Freedom Center for Social Justice (FCSJ). Being a recent retiree from a 15-year law enforcement career, it has been my truest desire to become an advocate for the LGBT community. The Founder and Executive Director of the FCSJ, Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls offered me the position and I started my new career of advocacy on my 50th birthday, October 22, 2013.
Because of Bishop Rawls’ association with Sharon Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), I was given the chance to attend the Transgender Law Enforcement Training Launch. So here I am stepping out of a cab in front of the U. S. Department of Justice Conference Center in Washington D.C.. As I walk up to the officer who was standing at the entrance, I had to so desperately refuse the urge to salute and just present my identification for rights of passage. I checked in at the front desk and was given my official ID badge. You would have thought I had just received a prestigious medal of excellence. I couldn’t tell anyone that I could hear a slow drum role playing in the back of my mind as the excitement continued to build.
I was quite early as it was only 8:00 am and the launch didn’t begin until 9:30 am. I was escorted into the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Building and greeted by Kelly Collins-McMurry, the Hate Crime Prevention Act Program Analyst who processed my information for clearance a few days ago. I received a warm reception, greeted with a hug and was then escorted into the presentation area and seated. I was greeted shortly thereafter by my point of contact, previously established, Isaiah Wilson, External Affairs Manager-NBJC. Isaiah was friendly and had been extremely helpful in suggesting overnight hotel accommodations in our correspondences prior to my travels. As others began to flow in and take a seat, the impact of what was about to happen really begins to sink in.
The program started precisely at 9:30 am and the panel was introduced. We heard from Associate Attorney General Tony West, Deputy Attorney General James Cole and the Community Relations Service Director, Grande J. Lum. All speakers stressed the need for expansion in Law Enforcement regarding the need to be more proactive regarding actual or perceived racial/ethnic tensions and violence based on race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or disability. Of course for all gender-variant people especially the transgender community, this was music to the hearts and souls of us that knew all too well the need for this to impact law enforcement.
The training presentation was brought forth by Major Irene A. Burks of the Prince George’s County Police Department in MD, Harper Jean Tobin, Esq., Director of Policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality, Diego Miguel Sanchez, Director of Policy at Parents, Family & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and Kit Chalberg, Community Relations Services (CRS) Conciliation Specialist. It was explained that the Community Relations Services (CRS) is the catalyst that initiates change and growth. They are established in every state to handle disputes between parties regarding hate crimes and alleged violations. While they do not take sides, options are created and implemented to eradicate and improve issues that have caused a gap in relations between law enforcement and community.
The training includes making law enforcement aware of LGBT terminology, the importance of being proactive, creating relations and building collaborative efforts with allies. This training will be facilitated around the country by CRS, regional personnel and local volunteer experts in communities that are experiencing hate violence and wish to better respond and prevent such incidents against transgender persons. CRS accepts this responsibility as not just a moral obligation but a legal one as well.
We were encouraged to contact CRS regional representatives in our own cities and states to help support this new platform of non-discrimination. To know that this training is the first of its kind, introduced on a national level sends out a message of hope. Realizing that CRS gives the trans community a voice in law enforcement, where there has been silence, is indeed, the making of history.