That's partly because leaders in several cities including Cincinnati have countered Trump’s ban by saying their police departments are ready to take their applications. A rally at City Hall on July 26 fortified that notion, with Chris Seelbach, the city’s first openly gay council member, at the forefront.
What’s also apparent is that the Tri-State transgender community isn’t the halting and withdrawn entity it might have been even 10 years ago, even in the face of a federal administration that would hardly seem to be sympathetic to its plight.
“We’ve taken a lot of votes on LGBT issues and there has been little to no people who are against us,” said Seelbach, who was elected in 2011 and is up for re-election in November. “I think that most people, and I’m saying almost all people, are just done with trying to make LGBT equality something that is a polarizing issue. Yeah, 20 years ago, this would have been a very controversial thing, but nowadays, I just don’t see it.”
“Cincinnati has made tremendous strides, coming from perhaps the most anti-LGBT city in the country to leading the way for LGBT equality,” he said. “We’ve taken tremendous strides to ensure that our city employees can bring their full self to work, because we know that when you come to work without worrying about someone asking you who you went to the movies with or why you are taking time off for a medical procedure, you’re a more productive, happy employee.”
Seelbach's solidarity with transgender men and women comes naturally. “I came out when I was 18, so I’ve dealt with anti-gay bias. I’ve been the only gay person around the table making decisions,” he said. “Yeah, I know what it’s like to be treated differently, just like anyone, just like a woman of color, an immigrant. I personally know what it’s like to be treated differently because of who I am.”
'Like anyone else'
The Heartland Trans Wellness Group now numbers well over 1,000 who seek its support and counsel in Cincinnati, the U.S. and several countries. Its modest space on Taft Road in Mount Auburn is where its director, Jonah Yokoyama, a registered nurse working in psychiatry, works part time. He has lived in Cincinnati for 13 years.
Yokoyama transitioned medically a few years ago but knew he was transgender in 1996 at the age of 16. Aluna Kaur, 28 and a native Cincinnatian, comes to Heartland and served a brief stint in the U.S. Navy. She has been transitioning medically for about a year-and-a-half.
“I just stand all day, work hard, like anyone else,” Kaur said of her job as a line cook, adding that her medical needs have not forced her to take any time off. “I think I’d be a much better sailor now than in the past. Post-transition, we do function so much better, at least in my personal experience. And I’ve really yet to meet a trans person that has had the opposite experience.”
Her support for those who would join the police department is based on the further mainstreaming of the transgender community. “Visibility and things like that are very important, to just know that we’re humans and we’re like anyone else,” she said. “We just want work. We want houses. We want happy lives.”
She believes the military ban and the attitude that goes with it could be short-lived.
“Overall, I think the country and the world as a whole are kind of getting around it,” she said. “But change is certainly slow, and I think especially with the previous administration we made a lot of great steps forward. I think now we’re a bit defensive and we don’t want this current administration to step backwards.”
Yokoyama is studious, forthright and meticulous in his advocacy for transgender men and women.
“The ban is absolutely outrageous and unnecessary,” he said. “There is no reason to ban trans people from serving in the U.S. military. We’ve been doing it since it began, and we will continue to serve. And there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to serve openly.”
“I think that Cincinnati would be a great force to serve with,” he said of the city’s recruitment stance on transgender people. “There’s challenges in the workplace for most trans people, and I think there would continue to be challenges in a police department. But I believe that Cincinnati is poised and ready to actively work to incorporate and be inclusive toward trans folks who would like to serve.”
Both Yokoyama and Kaur were ebullient when reflecting on the city’s approach.
“It absolutely makes me proud of the city that we have progressive and understanding individuals within City Council and the rest of the political sphere of Cincinnati,” Kaur said.
“I am very appreciative that Cincinnati and the City Council are stepping forward to say, ‘Hey, you are welcome here, we accept you,’ ” Yokoyama said. “And not only to trans people, but we have been labeled a sanctuary city, we have been working to be open and inclusive to all types of people. And I think that’s extremely important.”
Oppression, but opportunity
By most accounts, transgender people make up between 0.3 and 0.6 percent of the U.S. population -- roughly, anywhere from 1 million to 2 million people. The Tri-State’s population is around 2 million, meaning there are potentially 6,000 to 12,000 transgender people here. According to the most recent U.S. Transgender Survey, most of those people experience much greater harassment, far less support interpersonally and far more hardships economically than the general population.
Yokoyama and Kaur related incidents of assault in their past. Yokoyama said about 90 percent experience discrimination in the workplace simply because they are transgender -- ranging from less-than-convenient bathroom options to outright harassment and a hostile work environment.
It’s generally accepted that transgender people are serving in the Cincinnati police department, but police spokesperson Tiffaney Hardy said the department doesn’t keep that particular data in personnel files.
“The department has previously had a transgender employee as a member of our staff and would welcome any applicants as a member of our recruit class regardless of race, gender, age, ethnicity or nationality,” Hardy said. “We would welcome anyone with the heart, commitment, passion and dedication to duty to protect and serve the citizens of Cincinnati.”
Patrick Callahan is CEO of Transgender Community of Police & Sheriffs, a nonprofit based in Salinas, California. He estimated there are 1,500 police officers and support personnel who are transgender in police departments nationwide. His organization has helped roughly 300 in their transitions while on the job.
Callahan was in the military police in the U.S. Marine Corps and transitioned after he left the service. The support of the cities after President Trump’s ban was no surprise, and neither was the initial rejection.
“They’ve been forward-leaning the whole time anyway,” he said of Cincinnati and others. “This behavior (the ban) isn’t new behavior to us within the transgender community. We take one step forward and we’ll get shoved back three. We will survive this, and we will eventually conquer this issue as well.
“The best support that we could offer is to reach out to other transgender individuals. If you have to stay stealth, fine, stay stealth. Do whatever you need to take care of yourself. But first and foremost, never give up on yourself and never give up on your dream.”
He said the logistics are as much of a consideration for transgender people who want to become police officers as is the courage needed.
“Integrity is a huge issue for those in law enforcement,” he said. “Therefore every fact is checked carefully in an employment application for police officer. Coming across a name that has not been disclosed in an application would be considered lying and a lack of integrity and would be an automatic fail. Therefore, it is a big question in the minds of many young transgender people as to when and if they should disclose and how.”