Nomi Michaels Devereaux had six bags of groceries in hand when police arrested her.
She had just come from the Jewel Osco grocery store in Lakeview and was waiting outside while her boyfriend picked up a game system from a friend's on Sheffield.
According to Devereaux, police walked up to her, removed the groceries from her hands and handcuffed her.
"I said, 'What is going on? Why did you stop me? What is going on?'" she recalled.
At the police station, she said, officers made her take her bra off in front of them and then mocked her. She later learned she had been picked up for solicitation, she said.
Devereaux's story set off a firestorm in Lakeview because she did something few transgender people do: She reported the incident to local LGBT advocates. This August, that effort led to the implementation of a transgender general order for Chicago Police. "
Among other things, the order mandates that transgender people not be subjected to more frequent or invasive searches than other detainees. It also says that a transgender person's identity should not be taken as evidence of a supposed crime.
Stories about police wrongly assuming that transgender women are engaged in illegal sex work are so common in the U.S. that the phenomenon has simply become known as "walking while trans."
In a 2011 national survey of transgender people conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 29 percent of participants reported that they had been harassed or disrespected by police. Twenty percent said they had been denied equal treatment, and six percent reported that police had physically assaulted them.
In August, an Illinois transgender woman was awarded a $10,000 settlement from the town of Cicero after she filed a complaint alleging that police incorrectly profiled her as a sex worker, threatened her and refused to use her legal name. (Although Cicero settled the case, the town denies any wrongdoing).
Such stories are also common in Chicago, but transgender advocates have noted the difficulty in recording incidents. The Chicago Police Department has not historically tracked transgender arrests, a reality expected to change with the introduction of the new ordinance. Further, transgender people often distrust police and other officials, making them less likely to report incidents.
Some transgender and gender non-conforming young people interviewed and surveyed for the "Generation Halsted" series reported being wrongly targeted by police for doing illegal sex work. Others reported that police ignore transgender people trying to report a crime.
"Yesterday, I was having a problem with a guy, and I flagged the police down in the middle of the street," said one trans woman in Auburn Gresham, in a survey conducted by Windy City Times this fall. "They kept driving."
Generation Halsted is an eight-week series that seeks to capture youth voices not typically represented in Windy City Times and other media. The young people portrayed have many housing situations, gender identities and sexual orientations. The series looks primarily, but not exclusively, at Boystown, where an influx of young LGBTQ people has been a source of controversy. Windy City Times will continue to explore the issues raised here beyond this series.
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Next week is the eighth and final installment of "Generation Halsted," and Windy City Times wants to include you. If you've read the stories in the paper, watched the videos online or listened on the radio, now is the time to share your thoughts. What have you learned? What would you like to see and hear in future reporting on these topics?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with comments, tweet us @windycitytimes1 or find us on Facebook by Friday, Dec. 28, at 5 p.m. to be included in the final part of the series or after Dec. 28, for possible inclusion in future editions.
Windy City Times looks forward to hearing your thoughts.
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