Activists want East Point to undergo training on trans rights
Dee Chamblee alleges solicitor used incorrect pronouns, intimidation tactics
Dee Dee Chamblee was driving her 12-year-old car in East Point late last year when she was stopped by two of the city's police officers for an expired tag.
As a transgender woman and activist for trans rights, the stop was inadvertently a bit of a test. The East Point Police Department in 2015 approved a policy mandating just treatment of trans individuals following outrage over mistreatment of a trans man last year. The policy notes that officers should treat people with courtesy and professionalism, and use pronouns that match the individual's gender identity. Chamblee says that in her police stop last year, the policy was followed and "both cops treated me respectfully."
That wasn't the case, Chamblee says, when she appeared in court for her traffic citation Jan. 27.
On March 23, Chamblee and a group of activists confronted East Point Solicitor General Antavius Weems at his office in the municipal court for his alleged mistreatment, unprofessionalism, and intimidation tactics used when handling Chamblee's case in January. It was the second time in a year and a half that an East Point city official has been asked to issue a public apology for discrimination of a trans person — though unlike before, it's unclear if one will be issued this time.
In the January incident, Weems brought Chamblee into a private room with four unidentified officials to address her case, she says. Though the police officers, court clerks, and other staff Chamblee had already encountered that day had correctly referred to her with female pronouns, Weems insisted on referring to Chamblee with "Mr." and "he" despite her repeated requests otherwise.
When Chamblee asked Weems directly about his refusal to call her by "Ms." or "she," despite her evident female appearance, the solicitor asked her if she "had the full surgery," Chamblee says.
"What does this have to do with an expired tag?" Chamblee remembers saying. In a room with strangers, simply there to appear for her traffic citation and show the court her tag had since been renewed, the question crossed a line for Chamblee. "Why are you going under my clothes?" she asked Weems.
"I'm presenting myself as female and you know nothing else but that," she says after the fact. "[The solicitor and others] have no business questioning my gender."
Chamblee says Weems, who did not return Creative Loafing's requests for comment, went on to threaten a sentence of six months in jail.
"He was very intimidating," she says, a tone he also allegedly used in the meeting with activists this week. "He said that I could get six months for an expired tag, which really frightened me. ... I couldn't believe that someone could actually go to jail for a tag," she says.
In both the Jan. 27 incident and the confrontation with protesters March 23, activists say Weems repeatedly claimed that "it's the law" he refer to Chamblee by pronouns matching the gender marker on her state identification, which notes male.
But while it's true individuals must be referred to by their legal name as reflected on state identification in court, there's no law proscribing that officials must use pronouns that match the gender marker rather than gender identity, Holiday Simmons of Lambda Legal told Project Q.
Georgia does not have a discrimination law protecting LGBTQ individuals, but Atlanta and other jurisdictions in the state do. Atlanta's non-discrimination ordinance covers public accommodation, including all city official decisions, as well as housing and employment.
"If this situation had taken place within the Atlanta city limits then yes, there would have been protections and there would have been recourse, if it had been done, legally," says Chanel Haley, Georgia Equality's transgender inclusion organizer, referring to a complaint process that goes through the mayor's office.
For the activists' part, their work is not over.
"We're located here and half of the staff members who work in this office are based here in East Point. ... We feel a deep investment in making sure that the city really does it right," says Xochitl Bervera of the Racial Justice Action Center, referring to changes in city policies around treatment of the trans community. "Clearly there's a need for citywide training and cultural sensitivity."