As Chicago nears what was supposed to be the popular Pride parade this weekend, one of the city’s only known out transgender police officers is speaking out.
Officer Megan Woods, a 17-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department,says she hopes her story provides hope for others during uncertain times.
Officer Woods works in the city’s 19th police district, serving the Lake View area of Chicago.
She was raised in the southwestern suburb of Cicero with two brothers.
“People really respected being macho and masculine,” Officer Woods said, explaining why she didn’t tell her family or colleagues for years. “It literally led me down some very dark roads. I’ve struggled with alcoholism and suicide attempts.”
Woods served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years before joining CPD. Still, she says the scariest thing she’s ever done was tell her family she was transgender.
It wasn’t until 11 years on the police force, she decided to transition to a woman.
She was shocked at the overwhelming support from her colleagues. Officer Woods says most of the challenges happen on calls where she’s been the target of verbal insults.
The largest survey conducted on transgender experiences found 15% of trans individuals in Illinois lost their job after coming out, according to the 2015 study done by the National Center for Transgender Equality.
The same study found 69% of trans people in Illinois say they’ve suffered some form of mistreatment by police including being verbally harassed and physically or sexually assaulted.
Nearly 60% are uncomfortable asking police for help, according to the survey.
“I can see why,” Officer Woods said. “It’s very tough when you’re trans because first of all, your body parts are private. When you get arrested some of that is going to end up being exposed.”
Ofc. Woods hopes she provides comfort for those she serves.
She drives CPD’s only Pride squad car and is the department’s LGBTQ+ liaison.
“You can see their attitude change right away, especially when I come out of vehicle and they realize there’s an LGBT person in an LGBT car,” Ofc. Woods said. “Their perceptions change, and they realize they have a voice.”
She adds, arrestees can ask for her if they feel they need her as a resource.
Ofc. Woods also works with the area’s high LGBTQ+ youth homeless population.
At a time when tensions are high, Ofc. Woods says she hopes to build trust.
“I’m not ashamed of who I am. I am who I am. I’m a professional. I’m here to do my job.”