Officer Rubin Rhodes, who took a knee with protesters over the police killing of George Floyd, said he was reprimanded for wearing earrings. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>

Officer Rubin Rhodes, who took a knee with protesters over the police killing of George Floyd, said he was reprimanded for wearing earrings. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Police Commission votes to rescind gender-based dress code for officers

Policy raised concerns after non-binary officer sent home over earrings

San Francisco’s Police Commission has signed off on new dress code requirements that allow all officers to wear earrings regardless of gender identity.

The old policy, which allowed only female officers to wear one earring in each ear, came under scrutiny this summer when a non-binary officer was sent home for refusing to take off his earrings.

After a unanimous vote at the Police Commission late Wednesday, Police Chief Bill Scott is expected to issue a new bulletin rescinding the old policy, which was last updated more than 13 years ago in 2007.

“Chief Scott has acknowledged that an updated Grooming Policy is warranted to better reflect social standards that are both more enlightened and better informed about the diverse communities we are sworn to protect and serve,” said Officer Tiffany Hang, a police spokesperson.

While the revision has been in the works since at least last year and is part of a larger policy update, the old requirements raised concerns in June when Officer Rubin Rhodes told the San Francisco Examiner he was sent home for wearing earrings a day after kneeling with protesters over the police killing of George Floyd.

While Rhodes refers to himself with male pronouns, he identifies as non-binary.

Both Scott and Mayor London Breed said at the time that the policy needed changes.

“The mayor is a strong supporter of the rights of all people to be free from discrimination and unequal policies in the workplace,” said Jeff Cretan, a spokesperson for Breed. “This policy is out of date and needs to be updated to reflect consistent standards regardless of gender identity.”

But the policy remained in effect for months. All the while, Rhodes told the Examiner this week, his supervisors at Mission Station continued to document his alleged violations by snapping “mugshot-style” photos of him wearing earrings on at least three occasions.

He was photographed twice in June after taking a knee and once in October when he returned from a stress-induced leave, Rhodes said.

“They had me turn left, right and forward as if I was some type of inmate and took pictures of me,” Rhodes said. “You can understand how degrading that is as a Black man, as a Black officer in full-uniform doing this.”

Rhodes said he was not sent home or photographed for wearing earrings until after he took a knee. While he stopped short of saying police retaliated against him, others have not.

“This looks like retaliation against Officer Rubin Rhodes for having taken a knee in solidarity with the protesters mixed with some serious gender and sexuality discrimination,” Supervisor Hillary Ronen tweeted in June. “We need an investigation and answers.”

When asked whether Rhodes faced backlash, Hang said members of the command staff including Scott also took a knee with protesters.

The police spokesperson also declined to confirm or deny whether Rhodes was photographed by supervisors or is under administrative investigation.

But Rhodes said his captain referred him to Internal Affairs — the unit that performs such investigations — when he requested a copy of the photos.

Rhodes said he filed two complaints about the issue in 2017 and 2020 with the Department of Human Resources but has not heard back from DHR.

A spokesperson for DHR did not respond to a request for comment.

Rhodes said the old policy was outdated, sexist and discriminatory.

“I’m glad that we are taking steps toward the positive changes of inclusion, ‘cause that’s what we stand for as a department,” he said.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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