The Austin City Council on Thursday took a step towards redefining how Austin police will identify transgender and gender-nonconforming people by creating a task force that will craft policies on the issue.
Efforts to rethink how police define gender began in the wake of the Jan. 22 killing of Monica Loera, a transgender woman who police initially identified by her male birth name. The resolution’s lead sponsor, Council Member Greg Casar, represents Loera’s home district.
Earlier this week, Casar told the American-Statesman that when he and his staff fanned out in Loera’s neighborhood to address any of the residents’ public safety concerns, they learned of the pain her misidentification had caused. Several neighbors and members of the transgender community remained unaware of her death for nearly a week.
“We were all dismayed that Austin had the first transgender murder in U.S. and we didn’t find out until a week after it had occurred,” said Paula Buls, a transgender woman and member of the city’s Human Rights Commission, who helped craft the resolution.
When Loera was killed, Austin police were required to identify her on paper by her legal name and gender as presented on state identification. However, Police Chief Art Acevedo later noted it was a “teachable moment,” and police already had begun cadet training to address cultural issues facing transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, as well as training on domestic violence within the LGBTQ community.
The resolution passed 8-0 with Council Members Don Zimmerman and Ellen Troxclair abstaining. Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria wasn’t present for the vote.
It directs the city to create a task force of stakeholders who will consider new policies and training programs to improve how Austin police identify transgender and gender-nonconforming citizens. The task force would deliver its recommendations in August.
The resolution’s approval comes just as a statewide fight over transgender issues looms. This week Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick signaled that he would support a bathroom bill that would require transgender people to use the restroom of their birth gender. Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to Target Corp’s top executive criticizing its toilet policy that allows transgender people to use the restroom of their self-identified gender.
Casar noted that in a political atmosphere that has spawned those efforts, which many see as discriminatory, Austin needed to act.
“It is important for Austin to show that we are not taking our status as a friendly and inclusive city for granted,” he said.
Once-a-week watering here to stay
The Austin City Council voted Thursday to make once-a-week watering by automatic sprinkler systems, which has been in place almost continuously for more than four years, permanent. Hose-end watering would continue to be capped at twice a week. The council also approved easing up on car washing restrictions and limiting landscape watering variances to drought-tolerant yards.