"It’s clear that such training is as necessary as it is overdue," Associate Attorney General Tony West told a gathering at the Justice Department on Thursday, as DOJ's Community Relations Service kicked off its new "transgender law enforcement cultural professionalism training."
The training will help law enforcement agencies "improve their understanding of the transgender communities they serve and improve their work with those communities," said Deputy Assistant Attorney General James Cole, who appeared with West to launch the sensitivity training.
Addressing transgenders, Cole said, "We heard you when you told us that we needed to establish a foundation of trust between those who serve and protect the public and those in the LGBT communities -- particularly the transgender community -- who are disproportionately the victims of hate violence.
"We listened when you told us that you felt that you did not have the respect or understanding of members of law enforcement.
"We understood when you shared the worst possible -- and frankly unacceptable -- outcome that the transgender community could face. Based on the community’s fears about law enforcement’s support and perceptions, too many of you in the transgender community simply didn’t report incidents of crime brought to bear against you.
"This is not a result that can or will be tolerated by the Justice Department, and it runs counter to the very role your community public safety officials want to promote," Cole said.
West said such negative encounters with police have undermined transgenders' confidence in the justice system: "By helping us turn the page on these painful experiences, today’s training will help lay a stronger foundation of trust," West said.
'Transgender lives are human lives'
Deputy Attorney General Cole called the training a "significant and groundbreaking accomplishment."
"As most of you here know, transgender individuals -- people whose gender identity or internal sense of being male or female is different from the gender assigned to them at birth -- face enormous odds."
COle said the Justice Department "recognizes that what is often lost in the debates about transgender individuals is that transgender lives are human lives."
Pointing to a survey by a transgender "equality" group, Cole said discrimination against such people is "pervasive," and they are more likely to be poor, victims of violent crime, and attempt suicide.
While the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division protects gender identity and expression under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the DOJ's Community Relations Service (CRS) -- which developed the training program -- is "proactive," trying to improve understanding before incidents happen.
"CRS’s work on transgender issues serves to extend the positive and essential efforts the Department has been making during Attorney General Holder’s tenure," Cole said. "From concluding that the Defense of Marriage Act was indefensible in court, to the extension of benefits to same-sex marriages to robust enforcement of the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Department’s commitment to ensuring equality for the LGBT community has been clear."
Over the past several years, the Department of Justice has observed the Transgender Day of Remembrance in November, which Cole described as a day to honor the memory of victims of anti-transgender violence and discrimination.
"The Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day to recommit ourselves to breaking the cycle of violence that affects far too many transgender Americans," he said.
Until 2012, the American Psychological Association classified transgender as a mental disorder. But in December of that year, the APA revised the classification, noting that "a psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability."
"Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling, which implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder," the APA said.
APA says people who experience "intense, persistent gender incongruence can be given the diagnosis of "gender dysphoria."