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Transgender woman settles discrimination suit with Illinois town

By Tony Merevick| Chicago Phoenix
Monday, August 13, 2012

CICERO, Ill. — A transgender woman who alleged that two Cicero police officers humiliated her and discriminated against her because of her gender identity has settled a lawsuit with the town for $10,000. Cicero also agreed to enact guidelines for the police treatment of transgender people, according to her attorneys.

Bianca Feliciano, 18, filed the lawsuit in March, in which she detailed the alleged harassment and discrimination by Cicero police officers when she was walking down the street in the Western suburb with her friend in early February 2011. Two Cicero police officers profiled her as a prostitute because of her race and gender identity and refused to accept a state-issued ID, which properly identified her as a woman, according to the suit.

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“I’m glad to settle this case and I hope this policy will mean that what happened to me doesn’t have to happen to anyone again,” said Feliciano in a statement. “LGBTQ youth and others should never have to go through the abuse I suffered from the Cicero Police Department.”

Specifically, when she presented her ID to the officers, Feliciano was threatened with physical violence and charges for fraud. One of the officers allegedly told her, “You are not female, you have a dick between your legs,” according to the lawsuit.

The police transgender protections policy would make Cicero one of the few major metropolitan police departments to establish such guidelines, according to Feliciano’s attorneys at the People’s Law Office.

“We are pleased that the Town of Cicero is taking a step forward by creating this policy,” said Joey Mogul, a partner at the People’s Law Office and Director of the Civil Rights Clinic at DePaul University College of Law, on Tuesday in a statement.

The lawsuit also blamed Cicero’s lack of any written policy for the processing of transgender people, and its poor police training on dealing with transgender people as the reason behind the officers’ actions, but Mogul said that the new policy should change that.

Currently, Chicago has no such protections in place. Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno — with the assistance of a number of LGBT rights advocacy groups — introduced an ordinance in the City Council earlier this year that would enact such protections, but has not yet yielded progress in committee. New York and Washington D.C. police have adopted similar policies.

“We are hopeful that this ends the unjust and abusive treatment of transgender people by Cicero Police Officers and we hope that other police departments follow suit,” Mogul said.

Transgender people often rely on the protection that state-issued ID can afford them and are more likely to face violence and discrimination, according to a 2011 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Nearly half of transgender respondents in a 2010 National Gay and Lesbian Task Force study reported they felt uncomfortable seeking police assistance. About 20 percent of transgender people reported harassment from police officers, particularly transgender women of color and 60 percent stated they had been abused.

© Chicago Phoenix. Reprinted by permission.

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