Philly police have new orders for interacting with transgender, nonbinary people

Deja Lynn Alvarez is a Transgender activist and consulted in coming up with new directive (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Deja Lynn Alvarez is a Transgender activist and consulted in coming up with new directive (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

The Philadelphia Police Department is rolling out a new policy, which will be one of the most progressive in the country, on how officers interact with transgender and nonbinary people.

Amber Hikes, executive director of the city’s Office of LGBT Affairs, said the policy gives specific instructions for when police take a transgender person into custody.

“Trans folks who are arrested will be able to pick the gender of the officer who searches them. The policy dictates trans folks will not be transported with other arrestees. When housed, they will be put in a in a secure single cell when possible and available,” she said.

The policy even extends to how police refer to people if they die in custody or when officers release information about someone who was killed in a crime. It requires officers to use the name and pronouns as reported by the deceased’s family or friends. Often, police give out information based on what is on a person’s driver’s license, even if the person went by a different name and had a different gender identity.

Hikes said the policy replaces outdated language that could be considered offensive.

“Under the new policy, officers will be required to record a person’s chosen name on their official paperwork. They will transport transgender people in custody to the nearest medical facility if necessary to address immediate medical needs, and this includes hormone therapy,” Hikes said. “For the folks in this room, that may seem simple, but most other cities don’t address nonbinary people at all in their official policies.”

The policy calls on officers to ask those in custody which pronouns they prefer, including they/them — something that’s often important to nonbinary people.

Transgender activist Deja-Lynn Alvarez said the directive gives members of the community what they need.

“We are asking for the same rights and same protection that’s afforded to every citizen not only in the city of Philadelphia, but every city across this country, and what we want for every nation around this world,” she said.

Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Sullivan said it took a lot of collaboration to write the new policy.

“Working together writing the directive, vetting the directive, rewriting the directive until we thought we had a product we thought was worthy that would make us leaders in the community, we weren’t satisfied just writing a directive that was worthy for today, it had to be one that would speak well for us going into tomorrow and ensure the rights of everyone.”

The policy takes effect immediately and will be including in training for everyone in the police department.

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