Vet to Obama: I'm not an "it"

Posted on 26 Apr 2010 at 1:59pm
Autumn Sandeen FC1 USN (Ret.)
Autumn Sandeen FC1 USN (Ret.)

On April 20, six members of GetEQUAL were arrested outside the White House when they handcuffed themselves to the fence to protest “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” One of them was Autumn Sandeen, a retired Gulf War veteran. She served in the Navy for 20 years and has a service-related disability.

Sandeen, who is transgender, released a letter today that detailed her treatment after her arrest. She was called “impersonator,” “it” and “shim” by federal law enforcement officers.

Although her legal identity is female and she had her military retiree identification card with the name Autumn Violet Sandeen, the processing officer demanded to know her “given name.” She was placed with male prisoners. Proper policies were followed at the D.C. cellblock, she said.

As disturbing as the name-calling was by a few officers, no other police or marshal stepped up to stop the offensive language.Sad that she has to explain why being called “it” is dehumanizing.

Sandeen said there was a video camera in one place where she was called “it” and “shim” and has filed a Freedom of Information request for the video.

Full text of the letter follows the jump:

Dear President Barack Obama,

My name is Autumn Sandeen, I’m a retired, disabled Fire Controlman, First Class Petty Officer; I retired in 2000 from the U.S. Navy after twenty years of service.

You may know my name already, as I was one of the six military veterans who handcuffed ourselves to the White House fence on Tuesday, April 20th, 2010, to put pressure on you to include the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in your submission of the Defense Authorization Budget. I am writing today to bring to your attention the discriminatory behavior I was subjected to as a transgender woman by your federal law enforcement officers.

I am a strong, confident transgender woman.  I served proudly as a Persian Gulf War Veteran onboard the USS Gary (FFG-51) as a Close-In Weapons System technician during that war. I was awarded both a Navy Achievement Medal and a Gold Star in lieu of a second award for my service at Naval Station Long Beach’s Shore Intermediate Maintenance Activity. I served onboard the USS Coronado when the ship was awarded a Unit Commendation. I’m also a disabled veteran; my VA Disability Rating is 100%, and is a service-connected disability. When I handcuffed myself to the White House fence, I wasn’t an impersonator wearing a costume; I was proudly wearing an appropriate uniform for my gender identity.

Sir, I engaged in civil obedience to pressure you because you told us we should.

Specifically, you stated the following to a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) audience on October 12, 2009:

Now, I’ve said this before, I’ll repeat it again — it’s not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans petitioning for equal rights half a century ago…

If we are honest with ourselves we’ll admit that there are too many who do not yet know in their lives or feel in their hearts the urgency of this struggle.

And that’s why it’s so important that you continue to speak out, that you continue to set an example, that you continue to pressure leaders — including me — and to make the case all across America.

So, five other veterans and I, spoke to you with our actions.

President Obama, your Park Police took me down from the White House Fence; I was placed on the side of the police van where the other two female veterans in our group were seated. When we were about to be searched at the Park Police processing center, I informed the officer who was to search me that I was transgender.

When I went up to the processing window to identify myself, I told them I was transgender, and had male genitalia and female breasts, and that I identified as female. When the Park Police were preparing an identification bracelet for me, it initially identified me as a female.

However, before the Park Police placed the identification bracelet on my wrist, they asked me a second time — and only me — what my actual “given name” is, even though the officers had a copy of my military retiree identification card with my legal name of Autumn Violet Sandeen.

I never lied about my sex and gender to any officer during the entire 26-hours I was detained.

After initial processing, my five peers and I were loaded in another police van for transfer to the DC Superior Courthouse. This time, I was put in the side of the van with the men instead of the side with the women. I believe the officer who drove that van was Officer Walker — he was a well-built man with reddish hair in his 20s or 30s. He accelerated rapidly from each stop, late-braked to each stop, and sped through turns and over speed bumps. As your representative, this officer represented you poorly.

When we arrived at the DC Superior Courthouse, Officer Carr of the Park Police also represented you poorly. Specifically, when he was identifying the make-up of the prisoners to the corrections officer who was going to be processing us, he identified the six of us in the following manner (emphasis added):

There are two women, and three men — Well, really four men, and one of them is an impersonator.

During our overnight stay, policies for treatment of transgender prisoners were generally followed at the DC Central Cell Block — up until the point just before I was to be transferred.

Two officers came to my holding cell, and told me there was some confusion on my gender. I told the two officers I had male genitalia, female breasts, and a female gender identity. As they waked away, I overheard the senior officer tell the junior officer that my answer meant I was a male, and that I must have told other officers that I was female-suggesting I was trying to deceive them.
Then the female identification bracelet was cut off, and a second bracelet that identified me instead as male was attached to my wrist. At that point, I was transported to the DC Superior Courthouse.

This time I was to be processed as male instead of processed as female because of the change of my wristband.

President Obama, U.S Marshals processed me into the DC Superior Courthouse. Apparently, these federal officers thought it was humorous that I, as a uniformed transgender veteran, was being processed into this U.S. Government facility. Many of them were pointing and laughing at me. The one Caucasian, female U.S. Marshal who had her curly blond hair up in a bun —  dressed in a fuchsia, lightly ruffled blouse, a black blazer and slacks–kept raising her fist up and yelling out “Go Navy.”

My peer female protesters — Cadet Mara Boyd, and Cpl. Evelyn Thomas — were in a holding cell behind the U.S. Marshal’s station. They heard that same U.S. Marshal in the fuchsia blouse state the following to one of her peer officers (emphasis added):

“Did you see it? The nerve of it to be wearing a Navy uniform. Did you see the shim in the Navy Uniform?”

Calling transgender people “it” is clearly a way of dehumanizing transgender people. “Shim” a relative to “she-male” is also a dehumanizing term to identify transgender people.  President Obama, your U.S. Marshal calling me “it” and “the shim” is the equivalent to calling an African-American by the n-word, or calling a Gay-American by the antigay f-word, it is absolutely unacceptable.
I believe the behavior of your U.S. Marshal’s sent the message to the prisoners that your representatives wouldn’t protect me if these prisoners had sought to physically harm me — because I was a less than human, a “shim.”  At no time did any officer correct or dissuade any of the other officers from such offensive behaviors.  In fact, they seemed to feel comfortable in doing so around each other, even in front of other prisoners.

President Obama, you should be able to identify the U.S. Marshal who raised her fist and yelled “Go Navy” several times, and called me “it” and “shim” because there is a fixed camera facing the U.S. Marshal Station. I’ve asked Jeff Lynch of the DC Trans Coalition to help me file a Freedom Of Information Act request for that segment of video — because I too would like to see the video, and I’m sure too that many others would like to see it as well.

I spoke to my friend Allyson Robinson after my court hearing; Allyson is the Secretary of the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE), and the Associate Director of Diversity at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). She also is a West Point graduate, a former Patriot Missile Battery Officer who left the Army as a Captain. She is also transgender. When I told her that I had been called “impersonator,” “it” and “shim,” by your federal law enforcement officers, she responded:

I’m appalled by the slurs used against my friend and fellow veteran Autumn Sandeen. Such treatment at the hands of officers of President Obama’s executive branch, which is under specific orders not to discriminate against transgender people in hiring, speaks volumes about the work that remains to be done by our allies in positions of power.

President Obama, I remember the words you spoke so clearly years ago when asked about whether you supported transgender inclusion in the Matthew Shepard Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act:

“Absolutely. The transgendered community has to be protected. I just don’t have any tolerance for that sort of intolerance. And I think we need to legislate aggressively to protect them.”
I am now asking you to act on those words, President Obama, and show your intolerance for the kind of intolerance your representatives within the Park Police and the U.S. Marshals showed to me because I’m transgender. If they spoke about me with such inappropriate language, I’m sure they show that level of intolerance to other transgender prisoners too.

I am respectfully asking for you to initiate a full investigation of the events between my arrest and court hearing, and hold those who engaged in improper behavior accountable.

I would also ask that you initiate a review of the policies for handling transgender prisoners within all federal police agencies and federal corrections facilities, as these all fall under your executive branch of government.

I personally approached this civil disobedience action with honor, courage, and commitment — the core values of the U.S. Navy — and my honor, courage, and commitment was met with disrespectful and dehumanizing epithets by your representatives in the Park Police and U.S. Marshals.

And please remember, President Obama, you asked us to put pressure on you, and we are and will continue to do so. We White House Six acted with honor and dignity to put pressure upon you to put repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell within your submission for the Defense Authorization Budget. Please do.

Sincerely,

Autumn Sandeen

FC1    USN (Ret.)

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