Law enforcement officials from around Mississippi are gathering this week to learn more about issues facing the transgender community. MPB Gulf Coast reporter Evelina Burnett attended a training session at the University of Southern Mississippi campus in Long Beach on Tuesday.
When Rachel Gnau was outed as transgender 14 years ago, she lost her job. That is a common concern for LGBT Mississippians, who even today have few workplace protections. But in the years since, Gnau says, she's rebuilt her life and career, "and I’m living my life as who I am, realistically," she says. "In retrospect, it’s a very cruel thing to do to someone, but in my case, I’m happy it happened and it’s the best thing that could ever have happened.”
Gnau is a firefighter paramedic in Bay St. Louis. She was one of three transgender presenters at a U.S. Department of Justice training session intended to help improve relations between the law enforcement and transgender communities. Gnau says, she hopes the training will help attendees see transgender people as ordinary human beings.
“Transgender people are people. They are who they should be. They are who they’ve always been. The only reason they didn’t appear like this at some point in their life was out of fear of retaliation or repression of some sort," she says.
Cindy Eldridge is an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Mississippi and one of the organizers of the sessions.
"I hope they'll come away with a better understanding of the transgender community, how to interact with that community, whether they encounter victims or witnesses," she says.
The training sessions are also co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service and the Mississippi Attorney General's Office.
Tuesday's session was also co-sponsored by the Alliance for Equality at USM's Gulf Park campus.
Another training will be held in Jackson Thursday.