Becoming a Richmond police officer was a dream for Mandy Mauger. After three years on the force, she'd found her calling in life.
But even as she'd found her vocation, she was finding herself.
Openly lesbian, Mauger began exploring long-suppressed feelings and attending therapy. She came to realize that she felt more like a he.
Unfortunately, Mauger's friend, roommate and fellow police officer found out that Mauger had begun attending a transgender support group. “She outed me and kicked me out of the apartment,” says Mauger, who now goes by Colin.
It didn't stop there. “Nasty rumors were getting around and people thought I was going to be showering with the men soon,” Mauger says. His distress continued from the locker room into the field. “People — other officers — started to question me on [emergency] calls.”
“They had some concerns — and rightly so,” Mauger says of the questions from fellow officers and friends, who were being fed inflammatory information by the former roommate. “A lot of people are not educated on the whole transgender thing.”
The rumors and insults continued for nearly a year, and Mauger says his complaints to supervisors went nowhere: “I started to dread going to work.” He says the captain he trusted “never documented anything about the incidents at all. It's hard enough being gay in the department — but my co-workers were supportive of that.”
Discrimination and harassment are hardly new issues in the modern, diverse workplace. But for a transsexual man or woman, it's a hardship that often must be borne in silence.
State and federal laws don't prohibit discrimination against sexual minorities, and no law protects those whose gender expression — a spectrum of circumstances from cross-dressing to surgical sexual reassignments — falls outside of accepted heterosexual society.
Lack of legal protections left Mauger few alternatives. By the fall of 2008, Mauger says he finally took his complaints over the head of his direct superiors — by then they included the captain's failure to act to stop the harassment — to an internal affairs investigator. Mauger provided a lengthy, written statement about the harassment and about “struggling with my gender.”
“When I gave the statement to the detective, I told him this is very personal to me,” Mauger says. “He said nobody else is going to see this.”
Three days later, the signed statement was in the hands of the captain who Mauger says ignored his initial complaint.
“She said, ‘Internal affairs is not going to handle this, I am,’” Mauger recalls. “I cried in [the captain's] office. I felt disrespected.”
The captain threatened “to put me behind the desk and take my police powers away because I was mentally unfit and unable to do my job because I was obviously upset,” Mauger says. “I took that as a threat.”
“It started with the harassment, but then to be threatened. … it's a horrible thing for [the captain] to do,” says Mauger, who left Richmond in December and is beginning a new law enforcement career out of state. “I quit.”
Victoria Pearson Benjamin, the Richmond Police Department's lawyer, spoke generally about internal affairs investigations and about sexual discrimination. Benjamin was unaware of the particulars of Mauger's complaint.
As to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender issues, Benjamin says, “we have nondiscrimination, period. The city has regulations — you won't discriminate based on gender and the like. It will not be tolerated.”
As of press time, Mauger says he hasn't been informed whether the investigation into his discrimination complaint has been completed.
“It's been swept under the rug,” he says. Mauger came forward to raise awareness of an issue that might be easy for society to dismiss, he says. “I just want this not to happen to another person.”
Such love-thy-neighbor dreams are unlikely to come true any time soon, says Ted Heck, a member of the transgender task force funded by the state, which has performed what may be the only comprehensive statewide survey in the country of transgender health and related issues.
“A lot of people don't know, but it's legal to discriminate in Virginia,” says Heck, who was born female but lives as a man. “There's no protection for gender identity or expression. And it's just as bad being gay or lesbian — there's no protection for that either.” The state transgender study found widespread evidence of discrimination.
But for transgender individuals who feel like they've been placed in the wrong body from birth, they're simply trying to conform to their own inner gender identity, Heck says.
“That's where you become identifiably different,” he says. “That's why it's so important. … There's a national nondiscrimination employment act that they're going to be trying to get passed this year.”
That federal legislation, called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, evidently stands a far greater chance than in the previous decades, according to Rachel Balick, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign. “It's a completely different landscape,” she says. “We have a president who supports this bill and will sign it into law.”
A pleasant surprise for supporters such as Heck is that sexual identity and expression are included in proposed protections. Just two years ago those provisions had been dropped to curry support from lawmakers on the fence about supporting gay rights legislation.
Going forward, Balick says, “we don't foresee that there's any reason sexual identity and expression will be stripped out, and [Human Rights Campaign] will … only support a fully inclusive bill.”
That's good news for Mauger.
“I'm a lot more comfortable in my skin,” he says of his transition to living male. “I'm a lot happier.” S