NJ Police Get New Guidelines, Training on Interacting with Transgender People

Colleen O'Dea | November 21, 2019 | More Issues
Attorney General Grewal says rise in hate crimes requires law enforcement to be more aware, respectful of LGBTQ+ individuals

Acting quickly on recommendations from a task force focused on issues facing New Jersey’s transgender residents, the attorney general’s office on Wednesday announced three new actions meant to protect the LGBTQ+ community.

Yesterday, on national Transgender Day of Remembrance, Gov. Phil Murphy released the 50-page report of the New Jersey Transgender Equality Task Force, which includes dozens of recommendations in 11 areas ranging from education to housing to criminal justice. Created in July 2018, the 17-member group was the first statewide interagency task force on transgender equality in the nation.

In its executive summary, the report notes that the issues it studied are “deeply complicated” and stated that it understands not all its recommendations — particularly those that will require funding — will be implemented immediately.

“The report of the Task Force, which I encourage all lawmakers and policy makers to read, is comprehensive across at least seven policy areas, including criminal justice, healthcare, housing, employment, education, and more, and provides detailed, actionable steps that must be made to ensure a fairer Garden State for transgender New Jerseyans,” said Aaron Potenza, a transgender individual who chaired the task force.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal immediately implemented several of those suggestions, including a statewide directive on law enforcement interactions with transgender individuals that prohibits police from stopping someone for their gender identity or expression, instructs them to use individuals’ chosen names and pronouns when talking with them and writing reports, and governs how to conduct searches.

In a recorded YouTube message released by his office, Grewal said “the rise of hate crimes motivated by homophobia or transphobia” require law enforcement to be more aware and respectful of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex (LGBTQ+) individuals. Many do not seek help from police, Grewal said, because “they worry that they’ll face discrimination or harassment from the very officers sworn to help them.”

Increase in bias incidents

According to a report Grewal issued earlier this year, individuals reported  569 bias incidents (not confined to incidents involving transgender individuals) to law enforcement in 2018, a 4% increase over the previous year and 55% higher than in 2015. State officials said the increase in incidents is part of a national trend.

Grewal has undertaken many legal efforts to counter actions taken at the federal level that the Murphy administration considers discriminatory or counter to its values and the attorney general characterized the new initiatives as part of this effort as well.

“We are committed to using all of the tools of our office to safeguard the rights and safety of all New Jerseyans, including members of our LGBTQ community,” Grewal said. “That means not only pushing back against the discriminatory policies of the Trump Administration, but also pushing forward our vision of a fair, safe and welcoming state.”

Some police departments, including Newark’s, had previously developed policies for working with transgender individuals and the 14-page LGBTQ Equality Directive is meant to bring uniformity to law enforcement actions statewide.

As a general rule, officers are being instructed to perform any actions with the individual’s gender identity in mind, regardless of gender assigned at birth or anatomical characteristics. For example, this means that for the purpose of conducting a search, officers should treat a transgender woman as they would treat any other woman.

Using proper terminology

The final four pages of the directive provide definitions of proper terms to use —  cisgender, non-binary and intersex among others — and ones to avoid, as well as how to ask someone about their gender identity.

The Division of Criminal Justice is developing a training program on the directive, which all officers will be required to complete by next June 1. Additionally, the directive instructs county prosecutors to educate the public about these rules.

Grewal has issued similar directives to govern how law enforcement officials handle sexual assault cases and interact with immigrants and federal immigration authorities. The latter, which limits cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, has proven controversial in parts of the state, with Cape May County suing the state over the directive and Sussex County voters approving by a more than 2-to-1 margin a nonbinding referendum endorsing the county’s cooperation with ICE contrary to the directive.

Grewal also announced a new public awareness campaign by the Division on Civil Rights to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals under the state’s anti-discrimination law.

The civil rights division issued four new fact sheets on its website laying out “5 Things You Should Know” about the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. These sheets make clear that employers and landlords cannot make decisions based on LGBTQ+ status and such places of public accommodation as schools and doctor’s offices cannot refuse service or offer a different degree of service or care based on LGBTQ+ status.

New policy for juveniles

And a new policy, implemented by the Juvenile Justice Commission, is designed to ensure that staff provide fair and equal treatment to all juveniles, including the LGBTQ+, protect juveniles from harassment and discrimination and provide a safe, healthy and accepting environment. It expands guidelines for staff behavior and respectful communication when interacting with LGBTQ+ juveniles and updates rules regarding housing, facilities and programming, searches, medical and mental health care and confidentiality.

“We know that LGBTQ youth are more likely to face rejection and harassment,” said the commission’s acting executive director Jennifer LeBaron. “Our updated policy will make sure that we continue to treat the LGBTQ youth in our care in a respectful manner.”

Christian Fuscarino, executive director for Garden State Equality, praised the state’s quick action to implement some of the recommendations and pledged to continue working with officials to implement the other recommendations in the report.

“With hate crimes against LGBTQ people on the rise in New Jersey, Garden State Equality is acutely focused on building a more affirming culture in our state,” Fuscarino said. “The report and recommendations of the Transgender Equality Task Force are a groundbreaking blueprint for advancing the true, lived equality of trans New Jerseyans.”

Specifically, Fuscarino said Garden State Equality is focusing on implementing four key recommendations:

  • Mandate all-gender designation for single-stall restrooms in government facilities;
  • Develop an office of LGBTQ affairs within state government;
  • Create an ongoing Commission on Transgender Equality;
  • Establish statewide sexual orientation and gender-identity data collection.

The report stated there is “a serious lack of data collection on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression” at all levels of government and urged Murphy to increase data collection in this area by all state agencies.

“This lack of data limits our ability to see and address the full spectrum of issues facing the transgender community in New Jersey and to create robust policy recommendations to address those issues,” according to the report, which termed its call for statewide data collection “one of our most significant recommendations.”

Another significant recommendation from the task force seeks anti-discrimination training for state employees on how to serve transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people to comply with the law and provide greater access to programs and services. The report calls for periodic “cultural humility” training for corrections and parole officials, as well as public school teachers and staff. And it urges the state Department of Labor to support programs to help transgender individuals get jobs, including help with resumes, career coaching and legal services.