“She was trying to be professional,” Wernikoff recalled. But she never asked for Wernikoff’s identification and refused to acknowledge Wernikoff by her gender, according to the lawsuit.
In her report, Graham-Smith described her encounter with Wernikoff: “ ‘Sir, you have to leave this bathroom now,’ ” Graham-Smith said. “Said male stepped in officers’ face and started pointing his finger in officer’s face. . . . He was persistent in showing harassment and intimidation toward officer.”
At the booking station, the patrol officers repeatedly called her “Bruce,” Wernikoff said, and refused to let her reach for her wallet so she could show them her driver’s license, which showed she had legally changed her name to Brenda.
Officer Edward Fleming booked Wernikoff and Officer Frank Chiola searched her, according to the complaint. The officers did not give her a private space to change and did not ask whether she wanted a woman to search her instead, according to the complaint.
Wernikoff said she tried to show no emotion. “You survive the encounter any way you can,” she said. “That’s what you do.”
Prosecutors later dismissed the disorderly conduct charge against Wernikoff.
Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, has trained Boston police recruits in dealing with transgender people and said he is confident the department will draft a policy soon. Last spring, he provided the department with a copy of the Washington, D.C., police policy as an example of what it should adopt.
But Scott said his agency still receives complaints from transgender people that police sometimes do not take them seriously and often refer to them as as sir or ma’am, in contrast with their gender identity.
“Whether the person is a victim or assumed to have broken the law, transgender people should be treated with respect and should not be demoralized,” Scott said.
He praised Wernikoff for filing the lawsuit.
Wernikoff, who is now in a committed relationship and taking care of her ailing mother, said she tries to avoid police.
“We’re very, very misunderstood,” Wernikoff said. People “look at us and say ‘what is it?’ . . . We don’t do it to shock. This is who and what we are. We were born this way.”
Maria Cramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.