After more than two years of pushing by local organizations, Ald. Proco Joe Moreno is poised to introduce a transgender police ordinance to the City Council next month.
According to a fact sheet put out by veteran activist Rick Garcia and Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA), the ordinance will mandate a policy for interacting with transgender detainees and set up a mayoral-appointed commission to oversee the treatment of transgender arrestees.
"It's a human rights issue," said Moreno, who added that the ordinance is intended to address a "hole in the policy of the police of Chicago."
The policy comes after years of complaints from transgender people who have reported being harassed or misgendered by police officers.
Moreno said he hopes the ordinance will tackle distrust widely felt among transgender communities of police.
"We can't expect our police department to deal with a segment of the population if they're not trained in how that segment wants to be addressed," he said.
Lakeview Action Coalition (LAC) began talks about writing a CPD policy approximately two years ago when they received a report from a transgender woman who said she had been arrested for solicitation while trying to grocery shop.
"The reality is that the most vulnerable people are the ones most frequently interacting with the police," said Jennifer Ritter, executive director of LAC. "The police don't have the proper tools, which is what I think brings them to the table with us."
LAC has been in meetings with top police officials over implementing a policy, while other activists, including Martinez, began working on the ordinance.
Martinez cites a recent survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality that asserts that 46 percent of respondents did not feel comfortable asking the police for assistance.
"In Chicago, we've heard from folks who have experienced harassment [by police] specifically for being transgender," he said.
Transgender people have reported being denied access to hormones while behind bars and being placed according to their birth gender in jail facilities, even when doing so might put them at risk for violence.
LAC's policy work was inspired by pre-existing policies around the country, most notably Washington D.C. which has had a transgender police policy for the last five years.
Martinez said that activists found one major flaw in the D.C. policy- it lacked oversight from the community, making enforcement precarious.
If passed, the ordinance would establish an 11- person volunteer commission to oversee CPD handling of the policy. Six of its members would be representatives of the transgender community while five would represent CPD. Members would serve four-year terms.
The ordinance is backed by nearly 80 local organizations, according the fact sheet. The LGBT Citywide Coalition of 30 groups has signed on in support of the plan.
Moreno said that getting support for the ordinance may be a challenge, but he argued the ordinance is necessary, stating that the document does not provide special protections for transgender people. Rather, he said, it lays out the ways in which respect for transgender detainees requires unique considerations from police.
The ordinance was slated to be introduced Feb. 15, but Moreno held off, he said, in favor of continuing talks with police and other aldermen.
According to Max Bever, a spokesperson for gay 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney, aldermanic sponsors will be meeting in the coming week to strategize on the ordinance. James Cappleman, the openly gay alderman of the 46th Ward could not be reached immediately for comment.
The ordinance could be part of the legacy of transgender activist Lois Bates, who died in November 2011 at age 41. Bates, who many referred to as the "mother" of Chicago's transgender community, was active in the policy's initial conception as part of her work with LAC, and she fought to garner support for policy in its early stages.