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LA and the Bay: Transgenders Sue Police, Beauty School

by Carolina (pinedaart [at]
San Francisco Transgendered Man Files $25 Million Suit Against Law
Enforcement Officials; Transgendered Woman Sues Los Angeles Beauty School

L. A. / Southern California Edition
August 30, 2002 / Volume 21, Issue 09

Trans Phobia by the Bay and in L.A.

San Francisco Transgendered Man Files $25 Million Suit Against Law
Enforcement Officials; Transgendered Woman Sues Los Angeles Beauty School

A police brutality lawsuit filed by a transgendered man in San Francisco
calls into question the treatment of a community that often faces violence
and abuse with little support or recourse.

Jeremy Burke, a 37-year-old female-to-male transgender, announced his $25
million claim against the city of San Francisco and several police officers
during a press conference at the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and
Transgender Community Center Aug. 8. It was the first time he had publicly
spoken about the alleged beating he suffered when he was arrested and
detained a little over a year ago. It also was the first-ever formal
complaint filed by a transgendered person in a San Francisco Superior Court,
according to his attorneys.

"I think that anybody that suffers like this should stand up," Burke told
Frontiers shortly after the conference. "The more people that stand up, the
more chance we have of stopping this kind of behavior."

According to the lawsuit, several members of the San Francisco Sheriff's and
Police departments allegedly beat Burke during an arrest, subjected him to an
invasive and lengthy strip search, and then mocked him with derogatory
trans-specific epithets while he was in custody. As a result, he claims he
required medical treatment for internal bleeding and suffered from nightmares
for six months following the incident.

On Aug. 13, 2001, Burke arrived to deliver medications to his ill partner, a
67-year-old woman who lives at a Housing Authority complex in San Francisco.
He showed his identification to the guard--who also is named in the suit--but
she refused to let him go upstairs to his partner's apartment. After
convincing the guard that his partner desperately needed the drugs, Burke
claims he was shoved onto the elevator, incurring a cut on his nose as he was
brusquely escorted to the second floor.

The guard claims Burke pushed his way past her and she subsequently called
the police who arrived 15 minutes later. At that time, Burke's suit claims,
police dragged him from the apartment, punched him in the face, chest and
stomach, slammed his head into the floor, and bent his fingers back to subdue

Police maintain Burke raised a fist at one of the officers at the apartment
and that once in jail, he tried to hit then bite another officer on the arm.
But Burke claims he was merely trying to defend himself.

After he was booked on charges of assault, battery, resisting arrest and
trespassing, Burke said he was strip-searched by female officers, and various
others, including a nurse, made offensive remarks about his genitals. He
vomited blood for several days before being taken to San Francisco General
Hospital, where he was diagnosed with bleeding kidneys and where a black eye
and bruises were documented.

"I hope the filing of this lawsuit will change the way the police department
and the sheriff's department deal with the transgender community," Waukeen
McCoy, Burke's attorney, told Frontiers. "This shocked my conscience,
especially in San Francisco--a city that has a lot of transgender

Prior to enlisting McCoy, who is representing Burke free of charge, Burke
leveled a charge to the Office of Citizen Complaints, which has since
unfounded his allegations. All of the charges against Burke were eventually
dropped except the trespassing count, which is pending the completion of a
diversion program, according to police.

Burke searched for help with his case for many months, but found there were
few in the legal profession willing or able to assist him. "It was kind of
difficult," he said. "A lot of lawyers just didn't want to take this kind of
case. They just didn't want to go up against the city."

"A lot of transgender people have a tough time finding culturally competent
lawyers to take their cases," added Chris Daley, co-director of the newly
formed Transgender Law Center (TLC), a legal advocacy group representing
California's transgendered population. "It's a very difficult type of
litigation to do. It's really hard for an attorney to build a practice around
police misconduct cases."

As part of their mission, TLC is creating long-lasting solutions to the
problems faced by the transgendered community. Trans-specific legal training
will be provided to attorneys and abuse victims, and TLC will push for
ongoing training of police officers.

"The city had a pattern and practice of putting police on the street who
didn't have experience in dealing with the transgender community," Daley said
of conditions prior to 1995, when all police academy students began mandatory
attendance at a one-day session on transgender issues.

"I'm sure the people who are training them are excellent," Daley continued,
"but I'm sure even they are going to tell you that's not enough. That's
really just a kind of minimal step to stop what's going on."

San Francisco Police Department spokesman Jim Deignan said officers are well
trained in handling transgendered men and women. "At this point in time the
training provided by the department is adequate, but we can always provide
more," Deignan said. "We try to treat everybody as equally as possible across
the board."

But Daley and McCoy described a legal system that has yet to fully grasp
transgender issues. Abuse is still common, they say, and officers often don't
know how to handle a transgendered person. And, more significantly, lawyers
don't get involved.

"There's no real focus on helping that community," McCoy said. When Burke
described for him what had happened, he remembered how he felt after seeing
"Boys Don't Cry," a 1999 film about the murder of a transgendered man in

"I was sad," he said. So he decided to take on the case. McCoy, who handles
mainly civil-rights cases and has represented a transgendered person in the
past, described transgendered people as "the last underrepresented community
in the world today."

While there are increasing legal protections for people on the basis of
sexual orientation and gender, McCoy said, little deals specifically with
transgender issues. "Lawyers have fought in the courtrooms for years to get
those protections," McCoy said. "I think why transgenders have not been
included is because lawyers have not been exposed to this."

Burke, who moved to San Francisco from Texas seven years ago, confirmed that
physical and psychological abuse of transgendered people is "really common,"
and many victims fail to deal with it. "Its not really talked about outside
of the community," he said. "Most people don't want to be outed to the

While acknowledging he doesn't hold much hope for justice in his case, Burke
does hope it will raise awareness. Perhaps transgendered people will see that
there is help out there; police will think more about how they treat others;
and the mainstream community will come to terms with a minority that has
lingered in the shadows of shame and neglect for a long time.

Burke's case could go before a jury in less than a year.

In a related story, attorney Gloria Allred is representing a man who dresses
like a woman in a discrimination lawsuit also announced Aug. 8 against a Los
Angeles beauty school that refused to accept her. The Marinello Schools of
Beauty violated city law when it refused to allow the plaintiff, identified
only as "Sandy," to register, the suit alleges.

"Sandy's outward appearance is female and she self-identifies as a female,"
Allred said in a statement.

The suit claims that Sandy enrolled at the school on July 18, paid a $100
registration fee, and was told to report to class in August. But two hours
later, according to the lawsuit, a school representative called and said her
registration was denied.

"She said, 'I think you're going to have problems with the restroom.' I said,
'I don't think so. ... For three years, I never go to the men's restroom,"
said Sandy, who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition only a first
name be used.

The Superior Court suit seeks unspecified damages and an injunction requiring
the school to accept Sandy as a student. It claims that the school violated
the state's civil-rights act and a city ordinance that bars discrimination
against a person "projecting a self-image not associated with one's
biological maleness or one's biological femaleness."

--John Caldwell

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