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Bonnie Henderson, 51, says she was forced to retire from the Toronto Police Service, where she worked as Constable Ron Henderson, after revealing she was a transexual


Constable Ron Henderson was described as a "trailblazer in community policing" during 26 years with the Toronto police force. He taught children about traffic safety and the danger of drugs


When Constable Ron became Bonnie, her life changed in more ways than one

BRUCE DEMARA
TORONTO STAR STAFF REPORTER

As Constable Ron Henderson, he sang and played guitar for thousands of Torontonians during 26 years in policing. As a school liaison officer, he taught children traffic safety and the dangers of drugs.

His final evaluation described Henderson as a "trailblazer in community policing."

But following a lifetime of anguish spent repressing his belief that he was a female in a man's body, Officer Ron decided to become Bonnie Henderson and her days of educating schoolchildren were abruptly halted. She says she became the subject of taunts and bigotry and her career in policing was soon over.

"I was an exceptional officer until it (transsexualism) came out and it all changed," Henderson, 51, said recently from her modest home in Ajax. (The house is up for sale to pay for her sex-reassignment surgery.)

More than two years after quitting the Toronto Police Service with a reduced pension, Henderson is still awaiting resolution of an Ontario Human Rights Commission complaint and is going public with her story for the first time.

Within an hour of disclosing her transsexualism — the belief that she was a female in a man's body — Henderson was transferred from her duties as a school liaison officer.

"That's probably a good headline: `Whatever happened to Officer Ron?' I just disappeared. I never got a chance to say goodbye to the students, to the teachers. Nothing. Just like a criminal. Yet I never did a thing wrong," Henderson said.

Toronto Police Service spokesperson Mark Pugash said he could not comment on Henderson's case because of the legal action. The Toronto Police Association did not respond to a request for comment.

Henderson began her career in policing in 1975. Formerly a professional musician, she entertained through two groups, the Singing Policemen and Badge. She sang the national anthem at the SkyDome at the Police Games, was Santa Claus at the Hospital for Sick Children for seven years and received an exemplary service award from former chief William McCormack.

"I did fine as a man, but I didn't feel like a man. I was very successful ... as a man. I'm a martial artist, professional artist, (police) officer," Henderson said. "I did fine as a guy. But that's not to say I can't do equally well as a woman. I can. In many things, I do better."

After years of hiding and secretly seeking treatment for gender dysphoria, Henderson decided "that my closet had become too small for me, I had to just be me."

In February, 2001, Henderson left her Scarborough home, wife and two children. A month later, she broke the news to senior officers for the first time.

"I'm thinking I'm a really good officer, ... my record is absolutely perfect as an officer and I did a great service to the police (so) they're going to be cool about it," Henderson said.

Instead, she was immediately transferred to a desk job at police headquarters. There, during a meeting with three senior officers, she says the main issue raised was what washroom she would be using.

Henderson was then transferred to a Scarborough police division, where fellow officers refused to train her on a necessary computer system. She says the words "queer" and "******" would appear on mail addressed to her or on sign-in sheets.

Efforts to have the matter addressed fell on deaf ears with both superiors and the police union, Henderson says.

While living in the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood, Henderson soon became aware that a few police officers were making sexual overtures to members of the transgendered community. The Star and other media have in recent months reported allegations of officers extorting sexual favours from transsexual prostitutes.

Henderson says she was stalked by a member of the Toronto parking enforcement unit. She apprised superior officers of these allegations at several points and no action was immediately taken, she says.

In October, 2001, Henderson was interviewed by members of the internal affairs unit. Her voice breaks when she recalls how she was asked if she was a "sex-trade worker."

"I lost it and I started crying and I said, `How dare you, you don't have the faintest idea of what I've been through.' I got up and I said, `This interview is over,'" Henderson said.

One ray of hope emerged when Henderson was approached by Sergeant Judy Nosworthy, a lesbian officer who was then the force's lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender liaison officer, about the possibility of working with her. When no action was taken, a deeply depressed and dispirited Henderson put in her request for early retirement and left in January, 2002.

"I wanted to stay on, I wanted to work," she said. "I was basically forced to retire."

Kyle Scanlon, trans programs co-ordinator at the 519 Community Centre in the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood, said employment barriers are one of the greatest issues faced by transsexuals.

But Constable Jackie O'Keefe, the service's lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community liaison officer, said her experience as an "out" lesbian has been largely positive.

"I strongly believe that there is progress.... I tell you, these guys have come leaps and bounds in the years I've been working with them."
 
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