Congratulations, Officer Benson Churgai!
The 24-year-old made history Friday as the first out transgender graduate of the Philadelphia Police Department.
After months of training, the northeast Philadelphia native came out to his classmates prior to graduation in a five-minute speech that sparked applause from the room. Previously, he had only been out to close friends and family.
“I knew I needed to live my life and be true to who I was. I need to be honest with myself, and that was coming out as a transgender male,” he told WPVI, a local ABC affiliate.
“I wanted to go through the academy like every other recruit. I didn’t want people to know I was transgender because I didn’t want to be treated differently. I wanted to be held to the same standards as everybody else,” he added.
Churgai, now an officer in the Philadelphia Police Department, wants his coming-out to send a positive message to the City of Brotherly Love’s LGBTQ community about law enforcement.
“I hope it gives [LGBTQ people] the courage they need to call 911 if they need help. To be able to reach out and feel like they will be treated like every other person, and that the police department is being proactive in hiring people of their community onto the force,” he said.
In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Churgai added that he also hopes to be a model for others who fear discrimination stands in the way of their dreams. “When you are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, you often feel like you can’t have a career,” he said. “But when I put on that uniform, it’s not just a job. I’m living a dream I’ve always had.”
Churgai impressed many of his fellow recruits with his bravery in coming out. “I was proud of him,” said Jarrett Ross. “We need more of this in our department. We need people from all different walks of life, people who can relate to different things.”
Verdell Johnson, the Philadelphia police inspector overseeing the recruits, said Churgai was judged solely “on his ability to pass a rigorous background test and physical training.” Johnson hopes his story “lets those that are transgender know that they can also become a police officer.”
Watch the WPVI interview with Churgai below.