The Riverside County Sheriff's Department took a big step towards the LGBT community on Thursday. The state's second largest sheriff's department announced the addition of a policy addressing how the jail and corrections department interacts with the transgender community.
It's estimated that there's 6,000-9,000 people in Riverside county who identify themselves as transgender. It's a small community and one that there's little information about, even considered by some conservatives. "Gay and lesbian is about attraction to people of the same sex," said George Zander, the Coachella Valley field manager for Equality California. "Transgender is about a gender identity."
For the last year, Zander's put his focus on changing the way the sheriff's department interacts with the transgender community. "We want to make sure that they're treated with dignity and respect when we encounter them in our patrol operations and our corrections operations," said Riverside County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Raymond Gregory.
Gregory also serves in a newly appointed position for the department, the LGBT liaison. With input from Equality California and the Human Rights Campaign, his staff adopted a policy for how deputies treat transgender people in the jail. "Proper pronouns about how to address, how to search people and some very fundamental things our officers will need to know," said Gregory.
The policy focuses on sensitive issues like arresting, searching and taking transgender people into custody. The policy focuses on reevaluating processes already in place because of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. It protects inmates from sexual assault. The new Riverside county policy adds parts about interacting with transgender people. "It protects the LGBT community if they get detained while they determine if they committed a crime or not," said Thomi Clinton, a transgender activist from Desert Hot Springs.
The new policy marks major progress for people like clinton who helped bring this to the sheriff's attention. It's especially pertinent to the Coachella Valley because Equality California's already working individual police departments. The movement at the sheriff's department is the last piece. "To get them to come up with what we've done with the other cities, it's the sheriff's department that has to work with us on that," said Zander.
Chief deputy Gregory says training should begin as soon as possible with funding from a federal grant. For Zander and Clinton, they're hopeful Riverside's big step towards equality will serve as an example for other law enforcement agencies in the state and across the country. "It's really the last frontier of human rights and discrimination where everyone can live with peace and respect over hate," said Clinton.