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Emergency services operator repeatedly misgenders activist and assumes all trans women are sex workers in horrific call

Lily Wakefield April 10, 2020
Emergency services operator assumes all trans women are sex workers

Marni Panas waited a year to file the complaint because she hoped the police service would "do the right thing". (Marni Panas/ Twitter)

An activist who called emergency services has taken legal action against a police department after the 911 operator repeatedly misgendered her and assumed that all trans women are sex workers.

Marni Panas, from Edmonton, Canada, is a well-known local LGBT+ activist, and she filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission on Tuesday, April 7.

According to the Edmonton Journal, the complaint is in relation to two 911 calls Panas made on April 11, 2019.

She and her friend, both trans women, have a “safety check” system between them when going on dates because of the high rate of violence against trans women.

On that day, her friend was going on a date and told Panas that if she hadn’t texted by 8.30pm to assume that she was in trouble and needed help.

That time came and went, as Panas frantically tried to contact her friend. Having heard nothing by 9.15pm, she called emergency services.

She said that during the first call, the 911 operator repeatedly called her “sir”, even after being corrected.

Later, still having not heard from her friend, she called again. This time, she explained to the operator that her friend was a trans woman, hoping that they would understand how much danger she could be in.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. She was “horrified” when the operator said: “Well they shouldn’t be in that profession now, should they?”

The person on the end of the phone continued: “They’re meeting with a client for something, maybe they shouldn’t be meeting with these people is what I’m saying.” The operator also suggested that Panas’ friend “met somebody online, as an escort or something”.

Panas explained in her complaint: “The assumption that because my friend is transgender and on a date that she was a sex worker (which she is not) made me feel that we are not valued and that my friend deserved it.”

Luckily, her friend was OK, but she said that’s not the point: “I’m going to be fine, my friend is fine. It’s not about me at this point. It is about the greater community that I know is experiencing this on a regular basis.”

She recently wrote on Facebook, explaining that the reason she had waited a year to file the complaint was because she was hoping the police service would “do the right thing”.

“This hasn’t been easy,” she wrote. “I gave the Edmonton Police Service every opportunity to do the right thing here this past year, but the very institution we should count on for protection left me feeling if I’m ever in need of help in the future, I don’t know if I will call the police, and that scares the hell out of me.

“All I’ve asked for is that whatever training they provide was informed by trans and non-binary people, that it specifically addresses the behaviours I experienced and for evidence that they are working to ensure that no one with these clear biases against trans people and sex workers are ever in a position of power to make life and death decisions about someone else.

“They didn’t. Not even close. And so I took this difficult step.”

There has been no hearing date set, and Edmonton police spokeswoman Cheryl Voordenhout told the Edmonton Journal : “While I cannot discuss the specific action taken with the employee in question, what I can tell you is that the internal investigation revealed that the employee did not meet EPS Police Communications Branch standards, and was dealt with accordingly and in line with EPS policies and procedures governing civilian employees.”

 

 

More: 911 operator, Emergency services, human rights, sex workers, trans women

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