The Jackson Police Department partnered with the U.S. Southern District of the Mississippi Attorney's Office to host a "Law Enforcement and the Transgender Community" training session on Thursday, Nov. 19. Officers, deputies and training instructors from JPD and representatives from several community organizations came together to participate at the JPD Training Academy.
Molly Kester, president of the Mississippi Rainbow Center on the Gulf Coast, is leading a training session on terminology. She hopes that it will open up a dialogue and break down barriers so law enforcement officers can understand some of the main problems that the transgender community faces when they come into contact with law enforcement.
One of those problems is a lack of education, Kester said, specifically in how members of the transgender community are addressed and using the proper pronouns and names for transgender individuals.
"We start the training by going over basic terms of the LGBT community and what 'transgender' and 'cisgender' (mean)," Kester said. "Then we get into the preferred pronouns and preferred methods of how to approach those kind of (communication) issues."
The U.S. Department of Justice hosted the same training session on Tuesday in Long Beach, Miss., and Kester helped with that session as well. She hopes to do more trainings in the future.
Gregory K. Davis, U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Mississippi, said that the training was to make JPD law enforcement familiar with the transgender community as well as discuss appropriate words and phrases used to address transgender men and women.
"We hope this training will give you tools necessary to talk with transgender victims, witnesses, suspects and citizens that you could encounter on a daily basis," Davis said. "The more law enforcement officers know about the types of people they encounter, the better they will be able to do their job more effectively and professionally."
Davis said the training is not seeking special treatment for members of the transgender community but instead is seeking professional, respectful and courteous interactions with law enforcement and the transgender.
JPD Police Chief Lee Vance called the training a historic occasion for the department.
"We're moving in a direction towards understanding," Vance said. "The more we learn how to communicate, the better we can work together and the better we can move our society forward."
Maureen Whann is the mother of a transgender son and an advocate for more understanding in the community. For Whann, the issue of acceptance and understanding is personal—her son went away to California for college because he did not feel safe going to college in Mississippi.
She is telling her son's story at the training, about the process he went through, especially being raised in Mississippi.
"It's not safe for him in Mississippi," Whann said.
Whann got involved with advocating for the LGBT movement once her son went away to college, volunteering first with ACLU events. She said addressing the stigma that the transgender community faces in Mississippi is important, and parents of LGBT children need to love their children regardless of their sexual orientation, identity or preferred names.
"Who they are, what their name is, what their pronoun is or who they love is not who defines them," she said. "Your job is to love your child."