Orange County's transgender deputy
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Rebecca Storozuk, 29, is the first transgender deputy at the Sheriff's Office. She received her new department-issued name tag formally recognizing her as Rebecca in February after legally changing her name and gender.
For years, the Army veteran said she overcompensated for her feminine inclinations by participating in the most traditionally masculine activities she could find.
"Football, wrestling, weightlifting — trying to get as strong as possible. Being the toughest person and handling anything," Storozuk said. "I was a very good actor in a very bad play."
That inner unrest shaped her personality, she said. She grew angry, defensive and developed a "hair trigger" anger.
"I used to get upset a lot. Being the toughest person, being the first to fight," Storozuk said. "I wanted nothing more than for this to go away."
But then she came across the story of 33-year-old Christine Garcia of the San Diego Police Department, who was the first officer to transition in her agency in 2015.
"Here I was, going from masculine to feminine in a primarily masculine profession," Garcia said. "I heard stories of cops being harassed or discriminated against, getting in fights on the job, calling for cover and no other cops showing up to assist them."
She was met with acceptance and said she "was able to show them and change their perception of what transgender is."
"We, in a way, show the humanistic side of police officers and provide a certain level of empathy with the public we serve," Garcia said. "Many of us have become change agents in the departments we belong to."
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said having a transgender deputy benefits agency diversity, which is "simply good business" in law enforcement.
"It has been shown that communities are best served by police agencies with a workforce reflective of the demographics they serve," he said.
Storozuk said she is finding acceptance at the Sheriff's Office — but that doesn't mean there weren't stumbles along the way.
After four years with the Sheriff's Office, Storozuk first met with the department's human resources office in August to discuss transitioning to female. Some policies needed a new perspective, such as differences in uniform dress codes for men and women.
"We have a male and female grooming standard and anybody going through a transition it's exactly that: it's a transition," she said. "There's going to be a period of time where you have to go through these awkward stages."
For example, the Sheriff's Office uniform policy states men's hair must not cover "more than half the ear," keeping her from growing her hair until she was legally a woman. Without a written transitioning employee policy, she clashed with a former supervisor who ordered her to cut it, although HR gave her permission to grow it out.
"There needs to be established guidelines that could keep me within policy," Storozuk said.
Men also cannot wear earrings, a problem because Storozuk said it's "the little things" like jewelry that help others recognize you as female earlier in the transitioning process.
"In that period when you get misgendered, it doesn't feel too good because you're trying so hard to present (as female,)" she said.
Storozuk told members of her Sheriff's Office unit about the impending change after meeting with HR, but sometimes she'd work extra shifts with colleagues who didn't know her story or how to react.
"We didn't have a plan in place. We didn't have a way to explain it to other deputies and employees when they had questions," she said. "It took some time to really get that going, but I believe it's an absolute necessity to govern that gray area."
She also had to shut down false rumors that circulated — such as that she was suing the agency or that coworkers' insurance rates would be affected by her transition. She sometimes felt ostracized, frequently sitting alone at lunch breaks
"I have people telling me I'm only doing this for attention and staring at me like I'm some kind of freak," Storozuk said. "Everyone would wait for me to go into the bathroom to see which one I chose."
The Sheriff's Office declared that anyone can use the bathroom or locker room that aligns with the gender with which the person identifies.
Agency spokesman Capt. Angelo Nieves said they "recognize this as a concern in places where there is an expectation of privacy."
"With any new significant change in workplace rules or policy, there will be challenges, uneasiness and misunderstanding as parties explore a new set of working relationships and interactions," he said. "This is why communication, awareness and training, along with a clear policy can enhance this transition."
The Sheriff's Office is working on a transgender employee policy focusing on how the agency can assist with making the transition easier.
"Everyone's not going to move on my pace," Storozuk said. "I've got to remember that everyone hasn't been dealing with this same issue their entire life."
The Sheriff's Office began training officers in January about working with transgender deputies, including use of coworkers' preferred names and pronouns, when employees are considered transgender and overviews of state and federal laws.
"I'm happy with it. In no unclear terms they're saying, 'Hey, we're not going to stand for any discrimination,'" Storozuk said. "'This is a professional environment and we're going to continue to be a professional environment."
Five months into her transition, she still struggles with her confidence in her new gender. She worries about her voice and whether it's feminine enough. She's still figuring out what clothes she wants to wear off duty.
Admittedly, Storozuk's not off duty often, as she said she works more than 100 hours of overtime each month to afford her gender reassignment surgery next year, which isn't covered by insurance.
She is also getting used to some of the challenging aspects of being a female officer after half a decade as a male deputy. She says the public sometimes calls her "sweetie" or "honey."
"They never used to call me that," Storozuk said.
In the future, she would also like to see training on law enforcement interaction with transgender people.
"If you see an 'M' on their driver's license and they're clearly presenting as a female, you can say 'ma'am,'" Storozuk said. "If I'm walking up to a person and I really don't know what they're identifying as, all I have to do is say, 'Hi, I'm Rebecca. What's your name?'"
By Caitlin Doornbos via the Orlando Sentinel. Copyright Associated Press.
The Gayly - 6/30/2017 @ 5:22 p.m. CST