A Wave Forward: San Francisco Hopes to Lead the Charge to Address Transgender Inclusivity in the Criminal Justice System

Vera Institute of Justice

By Karina Schroeder

“Pronoun Showdown,” announced Stephan Thorne as he stood in front of a classroom of 15 or so sheriff’s deputies—new employees attending a mandated training session.

It’s a catchy phrase that Thorne likes to use when he explains the importance of addressing people by their pronouns.

Yet it’s also an imperative lesson—one among many that Thorne hoped to instill in his students as he discussed with them the nuanced topics of sex, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

Thorne teaches for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, where he conducts a gender awareness training for new deputies to increase respectful interactions between law enforcement and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender plus (LGBT+) community. The training is the first of its type to be certified by the California Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission and The State Board of Community Corrections.

There are two reasons why Thorne feels he has some authority in teaching on this subject. He’s a retired lieutenant and a 30-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department. He’s also a transgender man.

The implementation of gender awareness trainings—now part of the curriculum for all new employees—was just one step in a series of policy changes made by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department to address how transgender, gender-variant, and non-binary (TGN) people are arrested and housed at the local county jail.

The policies are an illustration of how a city made famous for being at the forefront of the LGBT+ rights movement is working to advance that movement within the criminal justice system—thus grappling with some of the nuanced questions around gender in an incarcerated setting.

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