Transgender activists marched on the East Point Law Enforcement Center on Wednesday over allegations that the city solicitor misgendered, harassed and intimidated a trans woman during a court hearing for a traffic ticket.
The group of about 20 protesters was led by Dee Dee Chamblee, the executive director of LaGender, and representatives from more than a dozen other LGBT and social justice groups. Chamblee, an East Point resident, claims that City Solicitor Antavius Weems bullied her during a January court appearance for a traffic ticket.
In a letter to Weems, Chamblee described what took place during the incident:
On January 27th, 2016, I, Ms. Dee Dee Ngozi Chamblee, was in the East Point court defending a traffic charge. You, as City Solicitor, referred to me repeatedly as “Mr.” and “he” despite my obvious female presentation and without asking any questions as to my self-identification and use of gender pronouns. When I explicitly asked why you refused to call me "Ms." or "she" and pointed out that others present were appropriately gendering me, you disrespectfully asked if I had "had the full surgery?" This question, asked in a small room in front of 4 other men - whose roles and identities I was not informed of - was offensive, inappropriate, and completely irrelevant, so I asked why you would ask that and again requested you to properly call me Ms. You then used an intimidating tone to say “It’s the LAW” and stated you must call me “Mr.” if my gender marker on my license says “male,” despite my gender presentation, identity, and explicit request. You went on in an intimidating tone to tell me that I could be sentenced to 6 months in jail for an expired tag.
Protesters marched on the city's law enforcement center, which houses Weems' office and the Municipal Court where the incident took place. Weems refused to meet with the group in the public lobby of the building. He relayed through an East Point police officer that he would talk with the group, but only in his small windowless office and without any cameras or cellphones in the room.
A small group of protesters, including Chamblee, then met with Weems in the room with four other unidentified city employees, two reporters and several police officers. Weems was confrontational, loud and often interrupted Chamblee and others to set ground rules on how they could speak to him.
Weems offered a partial apology to Chamblee "for the way I made you feel," but refused to back down from misgendering Chamblee in the court proceeding. He repeatedly claimed that he was bound by law to identify Chamblee with pronouns that matched the gender on her driver's license. When challenged by Holiday Simmons, Lambda Legal's community education and advocacy director, and others in the group that no such law existed, Weems continued to insist otherwise. He also repeatedly cited his past work on civil rights issues and diversity training.
Yet when Xochitl Bervera, co-director of the Racial Justice Action Center, and others recommended that Weems simply avoid gender pronouns and refer to trans people in court by their names, he again insisted that he was building a legal record in court cases like Chamblee's that wouldn't stand up to challenges if the cases were appealed.
Weems' aggressive behavior and confrontational tone during the meeting frustrated activists. Chamblee said the meeting left her feeling victimized again.
"His tone made me feel vulnerable again," Chamblee said after the meeting. "That whole feeling came over me again and it was a nasty feeling. His true personality, his true aura – I'm glad people got to see that in action."
Chamblee said that Weems was the only person involved in the ordeal – from the police officer that ticketed her, to court employees and the judge who heard the case – that treated her poorly.
"It was something that he personally wanted to do. And I think that showed while he was there in the room – that this was a personal thing. I think it was appalling, I think it was gross what you showed the rest of your staff and the other people working in the court. He was vindictive about it," Chamblee said.
Chamblee and the protesters presented Weems with four demands: a formal apology, draft a court policy stating that people "have the right to be addressed by the pronouns and names which accurately reflect their gender identity," that he participate in training on gender, sexuality and trans identities, and that he then lead an effort to offer similar training to court personnel.
'We are disappointed'
Simmons said the meeting was "disappointing."
"The law does not state that you have to address people by any prefix moniker. We are disappointed that he keeps saying that that's the law and that's what he has to do," Simmons said.
Simmons pointed out the irony of Weems correctly addressing Chamblee during the meeting but not in the court proceeding.
"Outside of the court, he addressed her correctly because he said that he respects her and doesn't want her to feel disrespected but the same would hold true in a courtroom. For the court record, you can note someone's gender marker and still refer to them with the pronouns and monikers that they ascribe to. This whole situation could have been avoided if he had done that. He could have followed the law and still been respectful," Simmons said.
Simmons and RJAC said they will develop a model policy on how to address trans people in court and provide it Weems for his consideration.
In October 2014, trans activist Juan Evans was stopped by an East Point officer for speeding. Evans alleged that the officer harassed him, called him "it," questioned his gender and jailed him as he was threatened by other officers during the ordeal. Evans reacted to the traffic stop in a video that prompted media coverage, outrage among LGBT activists and a march in East Point. Days later, Mayor Jannquell Peters apologized to Evans.
That incident helped lead to the adoption of new Standard Operating Procedures for the police department that mandate that employees address trans, intersex and gender non-conforming people by their chosen names and pronoun that corresponds with their chosen gender.