Brenda Gazzar Daily News, Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy Austin Guastalli never wanted to be “out and proud.”
Guastalli transitioned from female to male while on the force. He’s one of at least a dozen transgender deputies employed by the largest sheriff’s department in the nation, most of whom made the changes while on the job.
“I just want to do my job and live my life,” said Guastalli, who is currently assigned to the Long Beach Courthouse, where he brings inmates to court. “I want to be like everyone else and be the best deputy sheriff I can be.”
The 36-year-old deputy credits the sheriff’s department’s robust policy protecting transgender employees with his relatively smooth transition. The policy, approved in July 2014, addresses issues such as privacy, transitioning on the job as well as restroom and locker room use.
“Having supervisors and the higher-ups be supportive of you and have your back …really allows you to have the freedom to be who you are and work in a manner that’s safe and (allows) you to become the best you,” he said.
Lt. Donald Mueller, the department’s primary LGBTQ community liaison, said the department was the first in the nation to adopt a comprehensive policy for the protection and support of its transgender employees. It has been used as a model by more than a dozen major metropolitan police agencies in the country, including San Francisco and San Diego.
“We as a department recognize the value and worth of our transgender brothers and sisters and we strive to show the transgender community the same respect as every community that we serve,” Mueller said.
On New Year’s Day, Guastalli worked an overtime shift on the Metro Blue Line with a partner for the department’s Transit Services Bureau. He politely asked one man waiting for a train to put out his cigarette, joked with another who had temporarily walked away from his duffel bag and swapped stain-removal tips with passengers on the trains.
“We like talking to people,” Guastalli said of himself and his partner, Deputy Harvey Holt. “If you say something (to passengers), it’s like wow, all of a sudden you’re a person.”
Holt, who frequently worked with Guastalli when he was assigned full-time last year to the Transit Services Bureau, described him as a hard-working deputy who “always has your back” as a partner.
Holt met Guastalli after he already had transitioned and was surprised to learn after knowing him for some time that he was transgender.
“Then I was proud to be his partner,” Holt said. “He’s opening doors for those who come after him.”
Guastalli said he always knew he was different but for years couldn’t pinpoint the reason. After a couple of friends told him they were transgender, he realized that many of their feelings were similar to his.
He started his transition while on patrol training at the Lomita Sheriff’s Station a couple of years ago. He mostly kept the news to himself but opened up to a colleague with whom he had a rapport at Lomita and eventually met a few transgender deputies in the department.
While assigned to the Transit Services Bureau last year, Guastalli told his then-boss, Capt. Jennifer Bateman, that he was transitioning and wanted to be called Austin rather than by his birth name.
“She told me I was very brave and that she supported me totally and if there was anything she could do to help the transition be smoother, to let her know,” Guastalli said.
He then emailed everyone at the bureau explaining the situation and asking them to call him either by his new name, his last name, or sir.
“I said I don’t expect you to agree with me or share the same beliefs I have,” Guastalli recalled. “I just want you to respect me and know that I’m a good partner regardless of your personal feelings about my transition.”
While he imagines that not everyone was enthusiastic about the news, department policy has protected him from being harassed or put down for it, he said.
“I think it all has to do with the way leadership decides to support people like me, and also a changing department and a changing world where people are seeing things differently,” he said.
Today, Guastalli said he typically doesn’t get “misgendered” by members of the public. But during his transition – when his voice started to change and he started growing sideburns as a result of hormones – some confused people would switch between “ma’am” and “sir” during a conversation.
“I would watch it happen and wait until they settled on one,” he said. “I didn’t want to be rude and correct them.”
The first time Guastalli, whose transition included surgery, used the men’s locker room less than a year ago was a bit “nerve-wracking,” he said. For a time after his transition, he would put on his tan sheriff’s uniform at home or in the back of his car.
Guastalli, who helped train Tustin police on transgender issues last year, has decided to speak out publicly because he wants those like him to know they’re not alone, he said. He also wants others to know that he wants to be like everyone else.
“I don’t want to be separate. I just want to be equal and to just be seen that way,” Guastalli said. “I think that’s how most people like me are. They just want to live their lives and not be super special, just live their truth.”
Transgender Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy is among many living ‘their truth’ on force https://t.co/ZgLf0QvsXx pic.twitter.com/FuUDx2sqe5
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