Monday, April 26, 2010

Autumn's story

As I mentioned last week, GetEqual staged a protest at the White House where veterans handcuffed themselves to the fence in protest of the lack of movement on DADT repeal.

One of those veterans was Autumn Sandeen. As a transgender veteran, she didn't have to risk her benefits and jail to protest something that would not effect her fellow transfolk. She did, however, to express solidarity with her LGB brothers and sisters.

One of the concerns in the community and among those who personally know Autumn was what might befall her after she was arrested. She was verbally harassed and processed at one point as male. Actually, harassed is a weak word. She was dehumanized, called an it and a shim. Despite being upfront and honest about her physical status, Autumn was subjected to derogatory statements and cruel taunts. And this was from the federal marshals.

A transgender person is not an it. There is no excuse for this kind of behavior from law enforcement. I hope that the officers involved are subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. Surely they would be if they called an African-American by the n-word. Or if they had called Lt. Dan Choi by the f-word. How is this any different?

As always, a big thank you to Pam's House Blend for being such a positive resource for T in LGBT. And thank you, Autumn, for your service and your courage.

Autumn tells her story far better than I. It's after the jump:

Note: Autumn's full letter to President Obama can be found here.

President Obama, your Park Police took me down from the White House Fence; I was placed on the side of the police van where the other two female veterans in our group were seated. When we were about to be searched at the Park Police processing center, I informed the officer who was to search me that I was transgender. Image: Autumn Sandeen's Department Of Defense Military Retiree And 
Veterans Administration Disability Identification CardsWhen I went up to the processing window to identify myself, I told them I was transgender, and had male genitalia and female breasts, and that I identified as female. When the Park Police were preparing an identification bracelet for me, it initially identified me as a female.
However, before the Park Police placed the identification bracelet on my wrist, they asked me a second time -- and only me -- what my actual "given name" is, even though the officers had a copy of my military retiree identification card with my legal name of Autumn Violet Sandeen.
I never lied about my sex and gender to any officer during the entire 26-hours I was detained.
After initial processing, my five peers and I were loaded in another police van for transfer to the DC Superior Courthouse. This time, I was put in the side of the van with the men instead of the side with the women. I believe the officer who drove that van was Officer Walker -- he was a well-built man with reddish hair in his 20's or 30's.  He accelerated rapidly from each stop, late-braked to each stop, and sped through turns and over speed bumps.  As your representative, this officer represented you poorly.
When we arrived at the DC Superior Courthouse, Officer Carr of the Park Police also represented you poorly. Specifically, when he was identifying the make-up of the prisoners to the corrections officer who was going to be processing us, he identified the six of us in the following manner (emphasis added):
There are two women, and three men -- Well, really four men, and one of them is an impersonator.
During our overnight stay, policies for treatment of transgender prisoners were generally followed at the DC Central Cell Block - up until the point just before I was to be transferred.
Two officers came to my holding cell, and told me there was some confusion on my gender. I told the two officers I had male genitalia, female breasts, and a female gender identity. As they walked away, I overheard the senior officer tell the junior officer that my answer meant I was a male, and that I must have told other officers that I was female-suggesting I was trying to deceive them.
Then the female identification bracelet was cut off, and a second bracelet that identified me instead as male was attached to my wrist. At that point, I was transported to the DC Superior Courthouse. This time I was to be processed as male instead of processed as female because of the change of my wristband.

President Obama, U.S Marshals processed me into the DC Superior Courthouse. Apparently, these federal officers thought it was humorous that I, as a uniformed transgender veteran, was being processed into this U.S. Government facility. Many of them were pointing and laughing at me. The one caucasian, female U.S. Marshal who had her curly blond hair up in a bun -- dressed in a fuchsia, lightly ruffled blouse, a black blazer and slacks--kept raising her fist up and yelling out "Go Navy."
My peer female protesters -- Cadet Mara Boyd, and Cpl. Evelyn Thomas -- were in a holding cell behind the U.S. Marshal's station. They heard that same U.S. Marshal in the fuchsia blouse state the following to one of her peer officers (emphasis added):
"Did you see it? The nerve of it to be wearing a Navy uniform. Did you see the shim in the Navy Uniform?"
Calling transgender people "it" is clearly a way of dehumanizing transgender people. "Shim" -- a term relative to "she-male" -- is also a dehumanizing term to identify transgender people.  President Obama, your U.S. Marshal calling me "it" and "the shim" is the equivalent to calling an African-American by the n-word, or calling a Gay-American by the antigay f-word, it is absolutely unacceptable.
I believe the behavior of your U.S. Marshal's sent the message to the prisoners that your representatives wouldn't protect me if these prisoners had sought to physically harm me -- because I was a less than human, a "shim."  At no time did any officer correct or dissuade any of the other officers from such offensive behaviors.  In fact, they seemed to feel comfortable in doing so around each other, even in front of other prisoners.
President Obama, you should be able to identify the U.S. Marshal who raised her fist and yelled "Go Navy" several times, and called me "it" and "shim" because there is a fixed camera facing the U.S. Marshal Station. I've asked Jeff Lynch of the DC Trans Coalition to help me file a Freedom Of Information Act request for that segment of video -- because I too would like to see the video, and I'm sure too that many others would like to see it as well.

 I am respectfully asking for you to initiate a full investigation of the events between my arrest and court hearing, and hold those who engaged in improper behavior accountable.
I would also ask that you initiate a review of the policies for handling transgender prisoners within all federal police agencies and federal corrections facilities, as these all fall under your executive branch of government.
I personally approached this civil disobedience action with honor, courage, and commitment -- the core values of the U.S. Navy -- and my honor, courage, and commitment was met with disrespectful and dehumanizing epithets by your representatives in the Park Police and U.S. Marshals.
And please remember, President Obama, you asked us to put pressure on you, and we are and will continue to do so. We White House Six acted with honor and dignity to put pressure upon you to put repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell within your submission for the Defense Authorization Budget. Please do.


Autumn Sandeen said...

Thank you. I very much appreciate your kind comments and your warmly worded support.

I can only hope I have the opportunity to say the same kind of wonderful things about you some day. =)

Aliceson said...

Ridiculous! I am (almost) without words and absolutely outraged that our country continues to treat their own this way. Sad really. Thanks for sharing Autumn's story, True Blue.

Sidhe said...

Like Aliceson, I am almost entirely without words...and the ones I have left are too rude to write and I am trying to be a better person. Amazing that this behavior is tolerated (though, as a member of the military elite social club, I am certainly not surprised at all) by the feds. Certainly, if applied to other persons, the outrage would be greater but, sadly, the LGBT community has yet to obtain "human" status in the eyes of our laws and the powers that be. Thanks for sharing, True Blue and thanks to Autumn for putting herself out there, knowing that the road is rough and unfriendly.