PFLAG Hutchinson led a workshop with McPherson County 911 operators that resulted in policy changes for that department. The Hutchinson nonprofit organization was invited to provide insight about interacting with members of the LGBTQ population, particularly transgender individuals.
The Friday training session was prompted by a call to the 911 center that involved a transgender individual who was suicidal, according to Jill Brunsell, communications supervisor for McPherson County 911. That specific call was made by a friend on behalf of the transgender individual, but it raised questions about how to sensitively speak to a trans person.
Hutchinson PFLAG board members Tom Kirschen, Ashton Pfannenstiel and Dell Sprechter gave the LGBTQ Cultural Competency presentation.
PFLAG is a national organization with approximately 400 chapters that work to unite people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) with families, friends and allies. Hutchinson’s chapter operates an LGBT center on Main Street, and is the only PFLAG chapter in the western part of the state.
The training focused primarily on gender terminology, recommended questions and responses regarding gender, and ways to dispatch information without endangering a trans individual’s privacy or safety.
Dispatchers need to be able to convey information that is “accurate but sensitive,” Brunsell said.
“You have a variety of different terminology,” Kerschen said after handing out a glossary of terms that included transgender, cisgender, genderfluid, and more.
Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. A transgender person may undergo surgery or hormone treatment, but that’s not always the case.
Cisgender, in contrast, means a person who identifies as the sex assigned at birth.
Genderfluid is a term for someone who has a changing or “fluid” gender identity, and may not identify as male or female, or may identify as both.
“I think it’s always good to know all this if you can,” Kerschen said, “but you can’t say that one definition will play for you all the time. Individuals may refer to themselves differently.”
Kerschen recommended following a caller’s lead. If they identify as male, use male pronouns to address them. If they identify as female, use female pronouns. Some individuals may prefer a gender-neutral pronoun such as “they.”
The 911 dispatchers say they follow a protocol of questions for every call that is “pretty regimented,” but managers intend to write policies that will allow for gender and pronoun questions.
Pfannenstiel, a board member with PFLAG, recommended adding a question to the protocol: “What are your preferred pronouns?”
“By asking that question, you’re telling them that you’re accepting and willing to hear them,” Pfannenstiel said.
The question probably won’t mean much to callers who aren’t trans, but it’s a signal to LGBTQ individuals that 911 Dispatchers are willing to listen to them. It’s a signal of acceptance not just for trans individuals, Pfannenstiel said, but for all members of the LGBTQ community.
Dispatchers have the challenge of conveying a physical description and/or condition to law enforcement or paramedics while also remaining sensitive to a trans individual’s identity and protecting their privacy. To address the safety concerns, Brunsell said the department intended to change policy so that no gender information is relayed about trans individuals over the radio that the public could access.
“We don’t want to put anyone in danger,” Brunsell said.
Trans individuals — particularly trans men of color — are targets of violent hate crime, even more than other members in the LGBTQ community. In Wichita, a teen was sentenced in June for the stabbing death of a transgender woman.
“If you do have to ask a question that’s necessary and relates to whether they are trans or a member of the LGBTQ community, make it clear why you’re asking,” Pfannenstiel recommended. Many LGBTQ individuals have experienced discrimination, and there are those who will fear revealing information about themselves.
“Understand that if there are issues with mistrust or unwillingness to be open, it may have nothing to do with you,” Pfannenstiel added.
UPCOMING EVENTS WITH PFLAG
THIRD THURSDAY: Members of PFLAG will be present during Third Thursday, and will also host free rapid HIV testing at the LGBT Center, 2534 N Main St., during Third Thursday hours. The testing is being provided by Positive Directions out of Wichita.
DRAG QUEEN BINGO: PFLAG will hold a fundraising bingo featuring drag queen Divinity Masters at 7 p.m. Aug. 3 at The Atrium. Tickets can be purchased at Eventbrite.com.
YOUTH NIGHTS: Contact PFLAG for more information about youth nights that are held every week, as well as other support groups.
PFLAG Hutchinson can be reached about education or support through their Facebook page, or by calling (620) 842-8272 or sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about PFLAG Hutch on its website at www.PFLAGHutchinson.com.