A Mississippi first: Law enforcement transgender training - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

A Mississippi first: Law enforcement transgender training

Police officers from across the state received specialized transgender training. (Photo source: WLOX) Police officers from across the state received specialized transgender training. (Photo source: WLOX)
LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) -

It was a historic moment on the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Park campus in Long Beach Tuesday morning. For the first time ever, police officers from across the state received specialized training in dealing with a growing and more diverse population, specifically the transgender community.

The seminar opened with these words. “Just the fact of you being here sends a really important message that our community and our state cares about all of our citizens.”

With that, a new dialog, and the groundwork for a new understanding began. For transgender people, this was a big breakthrough.

One of them is seminar instructor Molly Kester. 

“Since police officers are going to have interactions with trans people at a time that's very difficult for everyone involved, it's good that they have the education so they know how to treat a transgender person,” Kester said.

Front and center for these law enforcers is a specific type of crime, according to transgender instructor Rachel Gnau. 

“Hate crimes are absolutely a problem in the transgender community, just like any other minority,” Gnau said.

Because of that, the U.S. Attorney's office is commonly involved. Cindy Eldridge is with that office. 

“It's important for local law enforcement to recognize that, to recognize that if the crime is based on gender identity or sexual orientation, they may want to consider contacting the FBI or talking with the U.S. Attorney's office to see if they would like federal assistance in the investigation,” Eldridge said.

Tuesday’s seminar goes beyond law and order. Dr. Douglas Bristol is a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.  

“We have no transgendered students who are comfortable identifying themselves as such in public, so we see this as a real need,” said Bristol.

While the knowledge gained by law enforcers from this seminar Tuesday is invaluable, something gained by the transgender community may be even more invaluable. That is peace of mind, according to Gnau.

“Maybe in the future, someone like us, someone like me won't have the problems that I have had,” said Gnau.

The seminar was sponsored by the U.S. Attorney's Office, and the USM Alliance for Equality, with assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union. A second transgender training seminar will be held in Jackson on Thursday.

Copyright 2015 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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