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Engaging and Building Relationships with Transgender Communities

An image of a transgender individual wearing the transgender flag
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The U. S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service (CRS) offers an Engaging and Building Relationships with Transgender Communities training program for law enforcement officers. This training is designed to help officers develop relationships and improve their interactions with transgender communities and individuals. The program aims to increase participants’ awareness and understanding of the civil rights-related issues impacting transgender individuals and communities, and provides strategies and best practices for improving communication and collaboration.

CRS offers two versions of this program:

  • In-person or virtual program: A four-hour training co-facilitated by subject matter experts from law enforcement and transgender communities.
  • A web-based (self-paced) program: A three-hour interactive training allows officers the flexibility and convenience to complete the course at their own pace.

Both versions cover the same topics and help officers develop an action plan to engage with their local transgender communities.

Program Overview

Building Awareness and Understanding

The program defines important terms and clarifies language related to transgender individuals and communities. This includes gender identity terms as well as acceptable language to use when speaking with, and referring to, transgender people.

Importance of Community Awareness

Through statistics and case studies, participants learn about issues impacting transgender communities and individuals, such as social and economic disparities, and high rates of violence and suicide. The program also discusses dynamics between law enforcement and transgender communities that can impact trust and communication.

Planning Community Engagement

Participants learn strategies and best practices to engage transgender communities and individuals, including the development of community outreach plans.

Program Goals

The program trains participants to:

  • Speak with and about transgender individuals and communities in a way that improves communication and enhances public and officer safety.
  • Understand the civil rights-related issues that impact transgender communities.
  • Identify misconceptions that impact the prevention of, and response to, hate crimes against transgender communities.
  • Use recommended tools, processes, and best practices to increase communication and improve relationships with transgender communities.
  • Develop components of a community engagement plan.

Case Highlights

Following the successful 2019 in-person delivery of the CRS Engaging and Building Relationships with Transgender Communities training program in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, local county law enforcement officials requested in May 2020 that CRS conduct the training again, this time virtually, to continue addressing the long-standing tensions between law enforcement and the transgender community. A county law enforcement official wanted to provide all officers the opportunity to attend the well-received training, including new hires and officers who had been unable to attend the training the prior year.

Participants in a June 2018 City-Site Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (City-SPIRIT) program in Winston-Salem, facilitated by CRS, had recommended the training to improve relationships between law enforcement and local transgender communities. During the City-SPIRIT, which included local city and county officials, a newly elected law enforcement official, the Winston-Salem Police Department (WSPD), and other community groups in Winston-Salem, community members had expressed concerns related to police treatment of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) individuals. CRS met with county law enforcement representatives, the WSPD, local LGBTQ communities, and council working to implement the City-SPIRIT recommendations, to plan the virtual delivery of the CRS training for law enforcement participants.

CRS, along with two subject matter experts (SMEs), a transgender rights advocacy group representative and a police officer, conducted the virtual training in August 2020 for the WSPD and county law enforcement representatives. CRS adapted the program for online delivery from the original, in-person classroom format to accommodate COVID-19 social distancing protocols.

Twenty-four officers attended the two-day training. Participants commended the WSPD and county law enforcement for championing the effort and thanked the SMEs for creating an environment conducive to candid dialogue.

In July 2020, CRS conducted its first virtual stakeholder training after the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person training not practical. A local law enforcement training agency sponsored the virtual training to address the Burlington, Iowa Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) communities’ ongoing concerns about safety and the need for law enforcement to better understand issues facing the transgender community.

The LGBTQ communities’ concerns stemmed from the March 2016 murder of a gender-fluid Black teenager in Burlington and perceptions about law enforcement’s handling of the case. Prosecutors had charged the perpetrators with murder, foregoing hate crime charges because murder carried the state’s highest possible penalty (a maximum sentence of life in prison). Local transgender community members perceived the decision as a major injustice, caused by the invisibility of transgender individuals in the state, and reached out to the Attorney General, state officials, and local law enforcement calling for hate crime charges to be filed.

As a result of these calls, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa (USAOSDIA) requested support from U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division (CRT) officials, who met with local transgender advocates to discuss their concerns. The experience helped the small and dispersed Iowa communities learn how to make transgender individuals more visible to law enforcement.

During the sentencing process, CRS reached out to local transgender advocates and a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, to provide information on CRS’s services. As a result, the USAO-SDIA, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa, and transgender community advocates requested CRS support to educate law enforcement officials throughout the state on civil rights issues impacting transgender Americans and build their capacity to engage with and build relationships with transgender individuals.

In July 2020, CRS virtually facilitated the Engaging and Building Partnerships with Transgender Communities for 25 officers from police departments and sheriffs’ offices across Iowa. CRS adjusted the in-person program for virtual delivery, adapting content to best encourage open discussions and learning online. Law enforcement and LGBTQ subject matter experts presented information on misconceptions that affect the prevention and response to hate crimes against transgender communities and best practices for respectfully communicating with transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. Participants also discussed strategies for outreach to transgender communities to increase trust and collaboration with their police departments.

More Information

Engaging and Building Relationships with Transgender Communities (PDF)

Working with LGBTQ Communities  (PDF)

Additional Resources and Informational Videos

Updated January 2, 2024