Pressure grows at The Center after trans cop endures anti-police slur during empowerment eventAround the City, Breaking News, Top Highlights Monday, April 17th, 2017
Thom Senzee, author of this article, is a West Coast-based freelance journalist, and a regular contributor to San Diego LGBT Weekly.
SAN DIEGO, Calif. — A whirlwind of controversy is swirling around The San Diego LGBT Community Center following Friday’s Transgender Day of Empowerment at which the bestowing of an award on San Diego Police Officer Christine Garcia, who is trans, was interrupted by about four demonstrators carrying signs and shouting protest slogans, some of which included the anti-cop epithet, “pig.”
“I was frightened,” said Joe Letzkus, former, longtime owner of Flicks video bar and benefactor of The Center. Letzkus was present when the disturbance broke out. “It was so sudden and loud and out of place.”
Others said the disruption brought with it “a feeling of “violence” even though no physical violence occurred.
“Then to see the staff do nothing to remove the people shouting was very confusing to me,” Letzkus told San Diego LGBT Weekly. “I believe they should be able to protest—believe me; but not inside the auditorium.”
The Center’s staff disputes that account, noting that while some attendees were in closer proximity than staff members to respond more quickly to the incursion, staff did respond.
LGBs Silencing Trans Activists?
One of the demonstrators who led the protest expressed dismay on Facebook by what they described as an attempt by the lesbian, gay and bisexual community to silence the trans community following the protest.
“You wanted my silence, CONGRATS, your goal is 50 [percent] complete. I want nothing to do with the community (LGB’s) and when it comes to the denial of this city and the state[-]sanctioned violence against those whose bodies look like mine, I quote Dr. Joy Degruy, ‘America’s pathology is its denial.’…,” posted Syra Olivia-Zoe Stone, who also goes by the name C.Z. Firestone.
Stone and their (preferred pronoun) fellow protestors were moved to demonstrate the award portion of the Transgender Day of Empowerment because police misconduct against transgender people and people of color in San Diego and across the U.S. continues in epidemic proportions.
“They say this is about empowerment,” Stone said. “Let this be about empowerment against oppression and police abuse.”
Acknowledgment of such abuse came from late last year from none other than Terrence M. Cunningham, president of the International Association of Police Chiefs in a formal apology for generations of police misconduct against minorities. It’s noteworthy, however, that the police chiefs group’s 2016 blanket apology for past abuses against minorities excluded LGBTQ victims.
“In the last three years I personally have been a victim of police improperly harassing and detaining me,” Stone said. “They assume I’m a sex worker because I’m trans and commit other improprieties so many times that I’ve lost count. I have been the victim of physical police brutality twice.”
Stone admits that the term “pig” was used by one of her cohorts at the event.
“I understand that the term can be inflammatory,” Stone said. “It’s not meant as a slur; it’s meant to describe behavior of officers who don’t respect the privacy of people of color. As black people, we don’t get to enjoy the same privacy you may take for granted. That’s the way a pig acts. A pig will just go anywhere it feels like. They will go into your space as they wish.”
“I decided not to use that word because, in this case because I’m black, I did not feel safe using it with an officer present who is armed with a gun and other instruments and weapons of oppression, including a nightstick and mace,” they said. “Let us get to know Christine, the person. Leave Officer Garcia, the uniform, the badges and the symbols and instruments of oppression and tasers at the door! One of my fellow protesters, who is white, went ahead and used the word, pig. I admit I do use it, but I didn’t that night because I didn’t feel safe enough.”
Wrong Tactics, ‘Deeply Disappointed’
San Diego LGBTQ-rights pioneer and city commissioner, Nicole Murray Ramirez understands the protestors’ concerns, but disagrees strongly with their tactics.
“Coming from the time of the ‘60s and ‘70s and having been subjected to being beaten by police both in Los Angeles and San Diego, I have a feeling that times have changed almost 100 percent between the police department and the GL BT community,” Ramirez said.
In fact, he says, SDPD’s relationship with the LGBTQ community has never been better.
“There have been exceptions,” Ramirez continued. “There’s good and there’s bad police, just like there’s good and bad doctors and ministers and so forth. The recent suicide of Will [Walters] was a situation and that pains me. How it was handled and led to his suicide. But they’re trying to build strong bridges especially when it comes to the trans community.”
According to Ramirez, under the leadership of Chief Shelly Zimmerman, SDPD has not only been welcoming and accommodating to Officer Christine Garcia, the department’s first openly transgender cop; but it has also actively sought to recruit more transgender officers.
“Look at what Officer Garcia has been subject to by A.T. [Furuya] and C.Z.,” Ramirez said. “First she’s been told she cannot come into The Center wearing her uniform. Then she’s told she’s going to be getting an award. Then she’s told she’s not getting an award. Then, only under pressure on the organizers, she’s getting the award again.”
Ramirez is disappointed in The Center’s handling of the Garcia affair.
“She’s at The Center and the idea that she could be called a pig and that she came in through the front door of our community center and that she had to leave out the side door because they were concerned for her safety is unacceptable,” Ramirez told LGBT Weekly. “I am very deeply disappointed that there wasn’t an immediate statement of support for Officer Garcia, and very disappointed that this all happened under the umbrella of, and in the environment of our center. There has to be a change.”
Several sources, many of whom have been long time supporters of The Center, told San Diego LGBT Weekly that Friday’s dust-up is just the latest in a series of mis-steps that signify it may be time for a change in leadership at the top of The LGBT Community Center. The Center’s CEO, Dr. Delores Jacobs seemed to acknowledge that she may be at least nominally aware of such rumblings.
“I think that any changes in leadership have a process, and I invite hearing from people directly,” Dr. Jacobs said. “I’m meeting with a bunch of folks in the next couple weeks and I invite them to talk about that.”
The Center’s CEO, who has led the organization for more than a decade arguably through some of its most successful periods of growth, says she was caught by surprise when the protestors entered the auditorium.
“What I heard were rumors that there were going to be people who were going to wear [protest] T-shirts,” Dr. Jacobs said. “Nobody called me and said, ‘there are going to be protestors.'”
But therein lies the problem, say critics. After all, not only was one of the protestors, A.T. Furuya, a member of her staff, but also her longtime friend and adviser, none other than Nicole Murray Ramirez, whose column appears in this publication, had issued a printed warning the day before the event in LGBT Weekly.
Following is The Center’s official statement regarding the Garcia affair:
For a number of years, The Center has donated its space for the Transgender Day of Empowerment celebration headed by Tracie O’Brien and a hardworking committee of volunteers. We have been proud to host this event and offer space for our transgender community and allies.
While The Center doesn’t manage or produce this event, we have always supported its stated mission to celebrate the transgender community, its diversity and its accomplishments.
Part of that diversity includes a diversity of viewpoints, opinions and experiences. No community agrees on all issues or tactics 100% of the time, and it was clear last week that there were diverse opinions and reactions about the content of the event program. Those opinions were characterized in some social and traditional LGBT media the day prior to the event. However, those differing opinions were not articulated in face to face dialogue so that all could understand the variety of perspectives and the reasons for them. In fact, as is often the case, they appeared to take place on different social media threads, so that few could even see the differing perspectives.
It appears that some came to the event expecting tension, and that some feared that tension could result in violence. Others were unaware of the tension, or what it was even about. It further appears that one group of trans youth and young adult trans community members and allies felt that their concerns regarding policing policy and practice, specifically the treatment locally and nationally of trans youth of color by some officers and the policing systems, were not being effectively heard in an event about empowerment and trans youth. Another group, upon hearing there were objections to a trans police officer receiving an award, contained many who believed that the objections were inappropriate to the event, untimely and unfair to the specific individual officer – who they believe represents progress in policing. The two groups apparently did not meet and discuss these issues prior to the event.
Given The Center’s standing policy that physical violence, threats of such violence and deliberate, direct provocations of that violence are not welcome in Center spaces, when someone asked for extra staff to be present, extra staff volunteered. While rumors of “expected violence” were reported on social media, no specific threats or rumors of specific threats were heard. The Center was aware only that some youth and young adults would allegedly attend simply wearing black lives matter t-shirts.
Shortly after the program started, a group of trans youth and adults entered the room wearing those T-shirts and carrying protest signs. As they entered, a group of other adults from the audience moved toward them to block the protest group from the ongoing program. However, one among the protestors shouted “Pig” at the police officer, and some among the two groups began to exchange hostile, tense words. Center staff moved to be among and between the groups. The hope was for de-escalation, that some extra space between the two groups would ensure that angry, passionate people standing inches from each other did not inadvertently create violence. Center staff requested that everyone back up, face the ongoing program, be silent and not disrupt the program. After approximately 3 tense minutes, all concerned complied.
The officer received her award to thunderous applause from participants, and the program went on. After those initial moments, both groups faced the program and were largely silent, allowing the program to resume. The Center did not call for police assistance, as some apparently wished we had, because all involved complied and the program was able to go on. Some believed Center staff were “standing with protestors”, others believed Center staff were “blocking protestors”. Center staff were standing with and between both, attempting to prevent further escalation. Individuals on both sides were helpful, cooperative and polite in seeking to have all comply with requests for calm. Since that time, several have reported that the individual who yelled “Pig” and appeared to be with the others was not a part of the organized group and has been held accountable by the group itself.
It’s important to make sure that the follow up to this event is based in fact. Certainly many will have diverse opinions, but hopefully many in the community share the goal of reaching some understanding of the concerns expressed by each group. There are real issues to be discussed. The reality may be that the best all concerned can do is agree to disagree about the tactics and timing, but I believe we can find avenues for all to be heard respectfully. We know that our community includes diverse peoples, all informed by differing identities and experiences in the world. It is important that we find ways to at least understand, if not have compassion for, those differences. I believe we can all find ways to disagree without being disagreeable or needing to call law enforcement to enforce the peace. Together. In community.
Some social media writers have alleged that one of the event speakers, CZ Firestone, works at the Center or teaches at the Hillcrest Youth Center. CZ is neither employed by the Center nor a “teacher” at HYC. Judging from a variety of social media responses, some apparently believed The Center organized the protest – The Center did not. Others believed The Center organized the resistance to the protest – The Center did not. However, I will offer that some have called for further community training on nonviolent protest and non-escalation resistance tactics. It is possible that such trainings would benefit some, and The Center is happy to help arrange expert external trainers for any and all community interested.
The Center remains a place dedicated to building community and dialogue for our entire community. We will continue to attempt to work with all to develop ongoing dialogue, honest conversation and true community.
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