For most people, the thought of coming out as queer or trans in a small farming community in Alberta would stir fears of social disaster. But for Christine Schulz, the first transgendered woman recruited by the Ottawa police, it was just one of the unexpectedly positive experiences she had on the way to transitioning in 1997.
“I never had people telling me I couldn’t do this,” says Schulz, who has been with the Ottawa Police Service for a year.
“Nobody said, ‘You’re doing what? You can’t do that!’ And I hadn’t said that to myself. There are lots of people out there who aren’t in my position, but it’s good to bring up the positive side and say, ‘this is how it should be,’ as opposed to another horrible story about a transgendered woman being beaten on the street.”
Schulz’s positive start allowed her to see that she has options where someone else might perceive tremendous obstacles.
When, at 35, Schulz decided it was time to pursue her longstanding dream of becoming a cop, that history of mostly positive experiences gave her strength for the challenges that lay ahead. As one of only two trans women recruits in all of Canada, she would need ample confidence to help her in blazing that new trail.
But first, she would need to sharpen some skills. The job called for leadership experience in the community, so she got more involved in local community groups. The job also called for public speaking skills, so she joined Toastmasters and learned how to address a crowd.
She also amped up her volunteering with the Police Liaison Committee for the GLBT Community, eventually becoming its community co-chair. (Critics have suggested that the dual role of representative of the queer community and potential police recruit puts people like her in an awkward position. She resigned from the committee once she was officially recruited.)
“For two years, everything I did was designed to make me a better candidate for this job,” says Schulz. “I was singularly focussed. I had a list of the competencies that I needed to develop and one by one, I checked them off the list.”
But as she got closer to starting the application process, internal doubts started to develop. When Ottawa’s deputy police chief Larry Hill encouraged her to apply, was he just touting a corporate line about diversity? Could the organization actually stretch to include her, or was this just a pipedream? She decided that whether it made sense or not, she was going to follow through on her plan and see what came of it. After all, what did she have to lose?
“So I wrote the exam, and I passed. I did the physical and passed. I made it through the interview and the background investigation,” says Schulz. “But up until I got handed the letter saying what I was going to get paid and my start date, I was still waiting for someone to take it away.
“Like with any job, once you’re in an organization, you have a lot more rights. Had I been part of the police during my transition, it would have been no problem. But when you want to come into a new workplace, you don’t have those same legal protections. All it would have taken is for someone to say, ‘I don’t think this person has what we need.'”
In fact, Capital Xtra’s interview with Schulz was delayed several times until she finished her probation period.
After making it through the screening process and then waiting on pins and needles for a final decision from the recruiters, Schulz finally got the call she had been waiting for.
“On a Friday afternoon, I got a call saying they wanted to see me [the following] Monday. Well, of course I knew what that meant!” says Schulz. “If they were going to reject me, they would have just sent me a letter. I don’t think I got any sleep at all that weekend!”
It was a couple weeks before Christmas, 2006 when the good news came her way. A group of colleagues from the GLBT liaison committee and the Race and Diversity Relations unit gathered with her that day to celebrate, knowing that this decision carried with it an important message of progress.
“The fact that I got the job is huge within the trans community,” says Schulz. “It says that if we want something more, we can try to get it. We don’t have to accept the few crumbs that people toss toward us.”
Excited to begin her new life and get the chance to live a long-time dream, Schultz packed her bags soon after to attend the 13-week course for new recruits at the Ontario Police College.
On her first day of work, Schulz says that she was happy to find out that a belief in supporting diversity is more than a corporate line amongst the higher-ups. Of course there have been rumours and struggles along the way, but allies in the organization have made that part easier for her.
“When I first came in, what I heard from some of the other officers was ‘Ottawa likes to play the stats — that’s why you got hired’,” says Schulz. “Some rumours we’ve addressed, some we’ve ignored. Mostly, just knowing what is being said is enough. I can do the job, so I’ve become an equal in their minds. I think, now, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m just Christine, and that’s a really big victory.”
That growing acceptance stands in contrast to some of the reactions that Schulz has encountered in the queer community since she became a cop last year.
Historical mistrust between the two groups has left some acquaintances feeling cold at her decision to join the force, though Schulz insists that she is the same person she’s always been.
“I’m pretty solid on who I am. Coming into the job much older, I already have a clear idea of my values,” says Schulz. “I come from the queer community. It’s a very open community, and my views haven’t changed. I don’t see a difference between who I was then and who I am now. I’m the same person, but I can’t undo the experiences I’ve had over the past year.”
A side-effect of Schulz’s presence on the force is that she’s becoming a bridge between local police and the queer community. People from both groups come to her to ask questions that they can’t necessarily bring to the table in more formal settings like the liaison committee meetings. While she doesn’t always want to be in the position of explaining one group to the other, it has brought forward clarity that is helpful on both sides.
“Because I’m so immersed in the [queer] community, I hear community concerns differently than what comes out in meetings,” says Schulz. “I also understand the police side, and I can bring that back to the community as well. I’m ‘one of them’ in both cases. I can explain issues differently because I speak both languages.”