Stephan ‘Steph’ Thorne was born on September 2nd, 1954, in Hillsboro, Oregon. He grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, where his mother moved the family to be closer to her parents. Despite a happy childhood, Steph faced challenges as a closeted transgender man, identifying as a tomboy. He often felt like a loner, struggling to fit in with other girls, which led him to spend time in isolation or with his grandparents during summer holidays.
At the age of 15, in 1970, Steph came out as a lesbian after reading The Grapevine: The Secret World of the Lesbian, a novel that resonated deeply with his experiences. He began attending local gay clubs with a fake ID. The following year, Steph came out to his mother, shortly after the Stonewall riots had taken place.
Now in high school, Steph was determined to make a difference and joined a Lincoln gay action group as co-chair. However, he faced discrimination and was told not to return to school until he saw a psychiatrist. Despite undergoing tests that labeled him a “perfectly healthy lesbian,” the school rejected this conclusion and expelled him for being gay.
After graduating high school through an adult education center, Steph attended the University of Nebraska, Omaha. He contemplated enlisting in the Air Force, but decided against it due to the requirement to lie about his sexual orientation and the discomfort of wearing skirts and dresses.
In 1979, Steph moved to San Francisco, where he applied to the police department during a period of active recruitment of gay candidates. As this was during the White Night riots, his application lost him many friends in the LGBTQ+ community. His first police job was with the city of Palo Alto and in 1984, he joined the San Francisco police department and eventually became a Sergeant.
In 1993, at the age of 39, Steph came to realize that he was transgender. Seeking support, he found an FTM (Female-to-Male) support group in San Francisco, which helped him understand his identity and encouraged him to pursue transitioning. Steph began taking testosterone and coming out to his family and police force colleagues. In a press conference, he publicly announced his identity, becoming a pioneer for transgender visibility and acceptance.
In 1995, Steph started training the San Francisco police department in transgender community awareness, the world’s first program of its kind. As interest in the training grew, he extended his efforts to other police forces across America, aiming to promote understanding and inclusion. In 2008, at the age of 54, Steph was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, becoming the highest-ranking transgender law enforcement official in the country.
Now retired, Stephan Thorne lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, Michiko. He has left an indelible mark on the law enforcement community, through both his work and his example.