Jaime Deer: Deputy Sheriff, Trainer, Advocate
While serving as a trainer for the King County’s Sheriff’s Office (KCSO), two things happened that helped Sgt. Jaime Deer realize that he could no longer travel the path in life he’d been born to. First, Caitlyn Jenner announced to the world she was transgender and would be transitioning to female. And second, another openly transgender officer came through the class where Jaime was the trainer. Those two events gave Jaime the courage to admit that he wasn’t being true to himself and that it was time to become the person he’d felt he was all his life.
Jaime grew up in a small, midwestern town and tried hard to fit in. He acted as the straight woman in the female body he’d been born with into his 20s, even marrying a man and having a child, before joining the KCSO in 1998. He left that relationship and identified as lesbian, eventually getting married to a woman, thinking that might be the solution. But this did not resolve the emotional and physical longings Jaime had felt as far back as he could remember.
Knowing that transitioning to a male was going to come with some struggles, Jaime was fortunate to have the support of his wife, friends, and community. There were also allies at King County and in the Sheriff’s department. In 2016, Jaime decided it would be better while transitioning to leave his training position and go back on patrol. He asked his supervisor to send his coworkers a message he composed that said he considers them part of his family, and though he was realistic enough to know that not everyone would readily accept him, he wrote “I fully expect your tolerance, and if you can supply it, your friendship.” Upon returning to work, Jaime had messages of support not only from coworkers but also from other employees across King County.
From square one to national resource
When Jaime took this step, the Sheriff’s Office didn’t have guidelines or training on how to handle a situation with an employee going through gender reassignment. Jaime helped KCSO leadership and the LBGTQ+ liaison develop guidelines with some research and support from other agencies that had already taken that step, including the Los Angeles and Seattle Police Departments. “It’s been a learning curve for Sheriff’s office,” he said, “But my superior has been very supportive.”
As Jaime’s story got around, and his coworkers got used to the idea, he became a resource in ways he hadn’t really imagined. “There was a teen who was suicidal about coming out as trans,” Jaime recalls “and the officer on the scene called me to come talk to the teen and the family, to share my experience.”
Jaime has even served as a resource for agencies across the region and nationally. “I’ve been asked to do trainings in Olympia, Spokane, Mt. Vernon” he said, “I also did a live Q and A session with the Jacksonville PD on how to respectfully handle situations dealing with trans people.” The U.S. Department of Justice contacted Jaime to do a virtual talk with officers on how to be sensitive to trans people they interact with.
Trainings cover a variety of topics. Something that might seem small, “like using the appropriate pronouns” can have a big impact. “I’ve had officers ask me how to ask if someone is non-binary, without being disrespectful,” Jaime reflected. “These are valid questions and it’s good they feel comfortable enough to ask me.”
Working with the LGBTQ+ community
Jaime also does training for the LGBTQ+ community on interacting with law enforcement. He said there are a lot of preconceived notions of law enforcement that are usually wrong. The same can be said of LBGTQ+ community and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).
“I’ve actually had more negative response from the LGBT side than the law enforcement side,” and he attests that “If you throw down hate toward the people making change you slow the progress.”
Jaime mentions a trans person from the 1960s who told him she thought she’d never see LGBT officers in her lifetime. Jaime agrees, saying that we’re at a point he never expected to see in his lifetime. But he’s realistic, knowing there’s a long road ahead. “You have to acknowledge and accept the progress, so you don’t impede it continuing,” he advises.