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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 20, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 03
Seattle's first openly Transgender cop
Section One
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Seattle's first openly Transgender cop

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Last year, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) issued new policies on officers' interactions with Transgender people, and Mayor Ed Murray signed an executive order mandating 'culturally responsive' training for city staff to improve their relations with the Transgender community. As the chair of the LGBTQ Advisory Council to the SPD, I was involved with both efforts, and continue to monitor the implementation of the trainings and observe their impact.

The reality is that the impact has been huge. In its effort to foster a relationship with the Transgender community (which is disproportionately victimized), SPD has seen an increase in crimes against Transgender people being reported, whereas such incidents used to go underreported. While I would much rather report that these crimes no longer happen, the fact that Transgender people are coming forward to report is a positive step toward eliminating these crimes from happening to others, helping victims receive justice, and continuing to build on a relationship that for many years was broken, if existent at all.

Recently it has come to public knowledge that SPD has its first openly Transgender officer. Tori Newburn, a Transgender man, works out of Capitol Hill's East precinct. He is proof that the change Mayor Ed Murray is looking to see happen at the department under the command of SPD Chief of Police Kathleen O'Toole is beginning to take place.

Newburn transitioned from female to male five years ago and explained to HBO's 'Vice News' that he was fortunate enough to live life as 'stealth.' Newburn explains that that is a term the Transgender community uses to describe those that transition without being suspected of being Transgender. In other words, they 'pass' in everyday society as the gender they display.

So when Newburn joined the police force - and as he patrolled the streets of Seattle - neither his coworkers nor anyone he comes into contact with had the slightest idea that he is in fact a Transgender man.

Newburn says he did not always want to be a cop and described himself as 'kind of a hippie.' He told 'Vice News' that he would have laughed at anyone who said to him he would end up a cop. But things change, and as Newburn navigated life as a Transgender man, a change of career was in the works and he joined the force.

He says he hopes that people see his joining the force as a way to rebuild trust between the department and his community and that it brings about some good in this world. Newburn was presenting as male before he entered the police academy in 2014. When 'Vice News' showed up to do a story about the department's first Transgender officer, his partner, Officer Yusif Jibril (the department's only East African police officer) found out that Newburn was Transgender. According to Jibril, the news doesn't change how he views Newburn, and he is happy his patrol partner could be honest about himself.

'I was kind of happy, because I've known him and consider him a friend,' Jibril told 'Vice News,' adding, 'He is somebody who actually reflects the community we serve.'

Marsha Botzer, longtime Transgender advocate and founder of the Ingersoll Gender Center, said that having a Transgender officer on the force could lead to not only better relations between the department and the community but to safer streets for Transgender people as well.

'As far as violence towards Transgender people, it absolutely will help to have Transgender folks in the police department,' said Botzer. 'And to have the entire department understand what is Transgender and what it is not. That will help.'

'Violence, I think, will decrease,' said Botzer. 'How could it not if there's that kind of understanding?'

'It's a long process to earn trust back when trust has been broken in the past,' Newburn said. 'My hope is that me coming out as a Transgender police officer will be another layer of building that bridge.'

News of Newburn's coming out as Transgender has gained national attention. SPD officials tell the SGN that aside from local coverage and the first airing of the 'Vice News' piece, other national and cable news companies are interested in showcasing Newburn and SPD's story.

The Seattle Gay News has also learned that Deputy Jamie Deer of the King County Sheriff's Office has also come out as Transgender. Unlike Newburn, Deer joined the Sheriff's Office before he transitioned from female to male. However, like Newburn, Deer also was living and working 'stealth' and recently came out as Transgender during the same time 'Vice News' was producing its story about the SPD.

Also, SPD officials tell the SGN that a Transgender recruit is currently training at its academy to become an officer with Seattle Police Department.

Change might not come as quickly as we would like sometimes, but there is no way around it. The coming out of openly Transgender police officers and the fact that the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff's Office is accepting of them are signs of change indeed.

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