Austin’s First Transgender Police Officer Shares How His Wife’s Support During His Transition Was Invaluable

Joan Abbink always had a rule for herself when it came to getting involved in romantic relationships – and that was to never date a police officer. Joan worked as a police dispatcher, and throughout her years of employment it had become a cliché for dispatchers to date cops.

“She wrestled with the idea of whether she would break her streak of never dating cops,” Greg laughed. “I charmed her just enough, and we fell in love.”

The couple met in 2009 and fell in love. That was before Greg transitioned genders from female to male. 

“My wife fell in love with me pre-transition, but she told me later on that there was always something different about me,” Greg told Freedom for All Americans. He ultimately confronted what he was feeling about his gender identity shortly after his 19-year-old nephew came out as transgender in 2014. “I said if this brave kid could begin this journey at 19 years old, then surely I could. I needed to be whole and complete and honest with everybody, and I wanted to be my best self – not just for myself, but for my wife, too.”

Greg and Joan worked through Greg’s transition together, and the couple is now happily married as husband and wife after tying the knot in May of 2016 in Texas. “She is my hero – the complete definition of unconditional love,” Greg said. “She has loved me for the person I am since Day 1, with no strings attached. I adore her and appreciate her for doing that. I met her and she could see beyond my outer shell and love me for the person that I am. She realized that although my transition was difficult for her, it was also difficult for me, since I was experiencing the physical and psychological and emotional changes. She let me deal with a lot of things and made me the focus, which takes tremendous restraint and patience and love.”

When Greg came out after 10 years at the Austin Police Department (and after a stint in the U.S. Army), his coworkers treated him with great respect, and he is proud to have blazed a trail as the first openly transgender police officer in Austin. In recent years, he’s developed a training program for cadets and field officers on best practices for interacting with transgender people. Part of that class confronts anti-transgender myths conflating transgender people with public safety – myths that have long been dispelled by statistical data, dismissed as a low-blow smear tactic by opponents of transgender equality.

In 2017 as a statewide conversation on transgender equality took over in response to the advancement of SB6, legislation that sought to restrict restroom access for transgender people, Greg was glad to be a part of a department that spoke out publicly and aggressively against the bill, with the Austin Police Chief and many other police chiefs from across the state declaring with one voice that the law enforcement community knows that anti-transgender bills will do nothing to make Texas safer. 

Texas remains one of 32 states without state-level protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Now, with support from his wife and colleagues, Greg is continuing in his own way to increase understanding of transgender people and grow support for non-discrimination protections in Texas. By training more officers and sharing his story, he hopes to illustrate that all people – including transgender people – are worthy and deserving of respect and protection. 

Special Thanks to Our Partners:

This profile was produced in collaboration with the National Center for Transgender Equality, the nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization winning life-saving change for transgender people. Learn more here.

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