Benson Churgai, the first openly transgender Philadelphia Police Officer, graduated with the academy in February 2020.

by Sue Ann Rybak

Benson Churgai, 24, is the first openly transgender Philadelphia Police Officer. He graduated with the academy’s 391st class earlier this year alongside 41 other officers who completed nine months of training and testing.

His connection to Chestnut Hill is a scholarship he earned to Chestnut Hill College where he said he plans to study criminal justice.

The Local talked to him on the phone about why he decided to come out and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.

Q: Tell me about yourself and why you decided to become a police officer.

A: I’m a goal-oriented person with a lot of determination. I always wanted to become a police officer ever since I was a little kid. I don’t exactly know when or why I wanted to be a cop, but ever since I was a kid, if you asked me as a child what I wanted to be, I always answered to be a cop. I don’t know what triggered it, but that has always been my goal.

Q: Do you have any family members in law enforcement?

A: I did have a great-grandfather who was a police officer in a town in Chester County. I come from a family that has a long history of service. I have family members who have served in different branches of the military.

I have an extensive family history in the fire service. Five generations starting back in the early 1900s, and I was a volunteer firefighter for a short time, and that made me the fifth-generation firefighter in my family. I had a police officer in the family. I have military in the family and then generations in the fire service.

Q: When did you begin your training for the police academy?

A: I began my training in June of 2019.

Q: When did you graduate?

A: In February of 2020.

Q: Was there a moment in training when you didn’t think you would make it, and somebody helped you?

A: There were times, but we all leaned on each other and pushed each other through. If someone was struggling with running, we would all stay late or come in early and help each other out. We would run with each other, train with each other, study with each other. If you needed a motivational talk, we would give it to each other because we all knew at the end of the day we wanted to be a police officer and needed to get through.

Q: What precinct are you assigned to?

A: I’m assigned to the Northwest division.

Q: Are you familiar with TCOPS (Transgender Community of Police and Sheriffs) international?

A:  Yes. I have heard of TCOPS, and I was reached out to about that program.

Q: Why did you decide to come out after graduation from the academy?

I came out after graduation because I wanted to go through the academy, just like every other recruit, because I wanted to get treated just like every other male. I didn’t want me being trans to give me any special treatment or any possible discrimination based on me being transgender. I just wanted to get treated like everybody else, and to show people it is possible to do it and get through. I wanted to get treated just like every other male recruit would.

Q: Were you worried somebody was going to out you?

A: At first, I was slightly afraid, but at the end of the day, it could have happened or would have happened. It’s my life. It’s nothing to hide or be ashamed of; it’s who I am.

Q: Do you think coming out after graduation has helped strengthen your bond with your fellow officers or hurt in any way?

A: I don’t think it necessarily changed the bond I have with my fellow officers. I didn’t get treated any differently after coming out. I was treated the same as I was throughout the academy after I came out. When I did come out to my peers, a lot of them did come up to me after I came out and said positive things and commended me for doing what I did. But my bond didn’t change with them; it remained the same. I don’t think it made me any different.

Q: What do you think is one of your biggest assets as a transgender police officer?

A: Honestly living my life as I truly am and still being able to become a police officer. Like I said, I always wanted to become a police officer ever since I was a little kid. When I came out as transgender and started living my truth, I didn’t think it was possible. I didn’t know what my future held. Still, it goes to show that you shouldn’t let anything hold you back from achieving a goal that you have.

Q: Were you worried about losing your job or negative feedback?

A: I rather not comment about that, but I was worried about repercussions at first. Luckily, I have a network of support that I established early on, and they helped me work through the fears that I had.

Q: What has been your hardest challenge so far as a police officer?

A: I will have to come back to that question. I need time to think about it.

Q: What do you think is one of your biggest assets as a transgender police officer?

A: Honestly living my life as I truly am and still being able to become a police officer. Like I said, I always wanted to become a police officer ever since I was a little kid and then when I came out as transgender and started living my truth I didn’t think it was possible, I didn’t know what my future held. Still, it goes to show that you shouldn’t let anything hold you back from achieving a goal that you have.

Q: Police officers are expected to deescalate situations and resolve problems, why do you think it is important that the police department reflects the community it serves?

A: I think any time there is a service provided to a community, the service providers should be a reflection of the community. It is important to have empathy and compassion in a community over shared experiences and being able to show empathy and compassion to help deescalate and resolve many situations.

Q: Did you receive a scholarship from Chestnut Hill College for continuing professional studies?

A: Yes.

Q: Do you know how much it was for? [Should I delete these questions? The scholarship is the local angle] I can call Chestnut Hill College or ask PR to find out LATER.

A: I am not sure. I did receive it and plan to use it in the future.

Q: Does it have a particular name?

A: I am not sure, but I can check.

Q: Did you attend college, or do you have any college credits?

A: I previously have not attended college.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about growing up as a kid and in high school or about cultural sexism as a transman?

A: Growing up, I was pretty quiet; usually, I kept to myself for the most part. I was into sports for a little bit, but I was pretty quiet overall. I didn’t really interact with many people. 

Q: What differences have you noticed in the way people, in general, treat you?

A: It’s a little difficult to answer because I start my transition as a young adult. Like I said before my transition, I tried my best to hold it in and make it through. As for myself, I tried to interact with as few people as possible every day, but after I came out as transgender and started my medical transition, I started to have more. That is when I started to open up, and I started interacting with people more. I felt more comfortable, honestly. It’s hard to compare, but that may speak on cultural sexism as itself because previously, I felt the need to blend in and not speak out before my transition, and then after coming out and being treated as a male, I felt like I had more of a voice.

Q: Who do you most admire in your career or life? 

A: I don’t just look up to one person. I like to look up to multiple different people and gather knowledge or advice or encouragement from each person. I look up to people from all different aspects of my life – people from my childhood, family, friends, coworkers, people from the community. I believe that each person has something to contribute and has walked a different path than me in life, so why not look to each person instead of just one person. You don’t know what someone has to offer, and they might not realize it, but each person has something to offer.

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