The Philadelphia Police Academy saw its first transgender graduate, Benson Churgai, sworn into the Philadelphia Police Department, as part of PPD’s 391st class, on Feb. 28.
“Among the top priorities of the Police Department is to ensure that our ranks are diverse, inclusive, and reflective of the communities we serve,” newly appointed Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said in a written statement.
After completing roughly nine months of training, Churgai came out as transgender to his fellow police officers-to-be in a short, prepared speech that received cheers from his peers. Before revealing his identity to his PPD cohort, he had shared his trans identity only with his family and friends.
6ABC footage showed Churgai reading a copy of the speech he gave: “I’m the first openly out transgender person to come through the Philadelphia Police Academy, and I sure hope I will not be the last,” he in the video. “We are a city that is constantly changing; Philadelphia is very accepting to everyone. By me telling my story, I can only hope it makes a change, not just for the police department, but also for the city and the LGBTQQIA+ community,” he continued.
In his speech, Churgai acknowledged the discrimination as well as physical and mental abuse that members of the LGBTQ+ community routinely face in their everyday lives, including himself. “Over the course of my coming out, I have had to face many of these things personally, all because I was living my life as who I am meant to be,” he said in the video.
His speech also covered the need for integrity and open communication in the police force. “We need to have conversations to help us get past problems and misconceptions,” he said in the video. He wanted to be as transparent with his peers as possible by telling them that he needed to live as a transgender man in order to live authentically.
Ultimately, Churgai hopes that his coming out will help foster a greater sense of understanding and kindness toward members of the LGBTQ community.
“I hope all of us that are soon going to be police officers have a better understanding when they come in contact with members of the LGBTQQIA+ community,” he said in the video, “And that we treat them with respect just like everybody else we come in contact with.”
Inspector Verdell Johnson, commanding officer of the Training and Education Services Division, supervised Churgai as he carried out the training program.
“One of the things I told Benson — if I were the first Black officer, I know a lot of people would look up to me to let them know that they can do this,” Johnson said.