Op Ed originally posted on the Cincinnati and Kentucky Enquirer’s website, February 2nd, 2015.
“Last week, Cincinnati Police LGBT Liaison Officer Angela Vance was publicly reprimanded by Mayor John Cranley and Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell for her inner-department newsletter that addressed the recent death of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn.
In the letter, Vance called her fellow officers to discuss the societal systems that influence transgender violence – specifically what can come from accepting vs. non-accepting religious groups. Of the 1,000 officers that receive this newsletter, four complained. This spurred Blackwell and Cranley to publicly apologize, admonishing Vance. Blackwell assured the public he will “review” Vance’s future writings before publication. Cranley speciously reframed Vance’s words as “the government telling people where to worship.” Whatever hints of support may be laced into these criticisms, there is a larger issue here: When even the slightest pressure is on, city officials aren’t up to the test.
Vance did her job, which is to educate her department about systems that impact LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) people in Cincinnati. Vance goes above and beyond to support this city, and I am saddened that in turn, the city does not do the same for her. The emotion displayed in her newsletter is proof of how hard she works to draw attention to LGBTQ needs – a job she was asked to do. Now that she has people’s attention, the reaction further demonstrates the lack of LGBTQ cultural competency among city officials.
I was born and raised in Cincinnati. I am also a transgender person. Cincinnati is a very difficult and dangerous place for transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-heterosexual people to live. I founded an organization that serves transgender people, and even as a provider, I struggle to survive here. I met Vance when she was appointed as the LGBT liaison. Like any strong ally to the transgender community, she immediately reached out to collaborate. In the field, Vance and I meet youth whose stories mirror Leelah Alcorn’s every day. We don’t do this work because we are paid for it (which we aren’t). We do it because it is our passion, and passion can inspire as well as intimidate. Vance wrote her newsletter with a passion to inspire good deeds among her colleagues, and people got scared.
City officials have discussed transgender rights more in the last year than in all of Cincinnati’s history, but supporting transgender people also requires supporting those who speak up for us. It is not easy to discuss the transgender community when many people still oppose our right to live, let alone our right for civil inclusion. This is why we need people, especially those in power, to speak out. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a (person) is not where (they) stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where (they) stand at times of challenge and controversy.” Cranley and Blackwell know that the four offended officers represent a larger anti-LGBTQ population which can, and realistically might, stir controversy. And so, they chose to coddle the feelings of the privileged rather than acknowledge the violence that impacts transgender people every day.
To stop violence, we must discuss how it is manifested as well as what role we may play in its progression. Rather than discipline Vance for starting the conversation, we must urge the city to continue it. We must call for dialogue, education, and acceptance among police officers and city workers. City Hall and Cincinnati Police must work with LGBTQ people to combat oppression. Vance is doing her part to create change. It is time for city officials to follow suit.”