D.C. Police Sgt. Jessica Hawkins began work on March 3 as the new supervisor of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, becoming the first transgender person to hold the position.
Hawkins replaces Sgt. Matthew Mahl, who served as acting supervisor and later supervisor of the GLLU since July 2012.
“Congratulations to Sgt. Jessica Hawkins,” said David Mariner, executive director of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, in a Facebook posting last week.
Mariner appeared to be the first to announce Hawkins’ appointment to the broader community, saying he learned about it through a police department email sent to a private list of local LGBT organizations and activists that monitor police issues, including anti-LGBT hate crimes.
As of early this week, the department had not issued a public statement announcing Hawkins’ appointment.
But after confirming for the Washington Blade that Hawkins has been named as the new GLLU supervisor, police spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump said police officials had cleared Hawkins for an interview with the Blade, which took place Wednesday.
Hawkins said she’s “very excited” to take on the role of GLLU supervisor and plans to build on what she said was a strong foundation for the unit built by her predecessors, including Mahl and former GLLU supervisor Sgt. Brett Parson.
“As far as my plans for the GLLU, I want to reinforce its necessity in the community as well as in the department and to be more inclusive with the transgender community,” she said.
“Obviously, the GLLU has done a great job with the gay and lesbian community and I know Brett and Matt have done a great job with the transgender community,” Hawkins said.
“And now I want to mend the bridges between the transgender community and the police department,” she said, referring to concerns raised in recent years that an atmosphere of mistrust has existed between some police officers and members of the trans community despite efforts by the GLLU to address trans issues.
While confirming Hawkins’ appointment, police officials have not said why Mahl left the GLLU supervisor’s post.
Mahl has been on sick leave at various times over the past year due to a shoulder injury for which surgery may be necessary for treatment, sources familiar with the department have said. At least one source familiar with the GLLU, who spoke on condition of not being identified, said Mahl may have determined it would be inappropriate to remain as head of the GLLU while out on sick leave for a prolonged period.
The source said Mahl was expected to be transferred to a street patrol assignment with the Sixth District station when he returns from sick leave.
Mahl couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Paul Tupper, chair of the local group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, said he was unaware of the circumstances that led to Hawkins’ appointment but was pleased to learn about it.
“Sgt. Hawkins’ story and her journey and her bravery are inspiring,” Tupper said. “And whatever leadership position MPD wants to promote her to we look forward to working with her.”
Veteran D.C. transgender advocate Earline Budd said she’s also pleased to learn of Hawkins’ appointment as head of the GLLU, but she said Hawkins is largely unknown in the D.C. transgender community.
Hawkins had a public coming out of sorts in the LGBT community last November during the city’s annual Transgender Day of Remembrance held at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington. Before an audience of more than 250 people, Hawkins received a standing ovation when she announced — while introducing Police Chief Cathy Lanier as a speaker — that she had just come out to the department as transgender.
“I’m here to show my support,” she said.
“I’m going to work with her to do whatever I can to help her get acclimated to the community, especially the transgender community of color,” Budd said.
“I’m very pleased to hear and, yes, ecstatic that the city has moved forward with putting a transgender person in such a position, which is needed within the police department,” said Budd. “But at the end of the day I just really need to know that Sgt. Hawkins understands what she’s taking on in terms of that position based on those like Sgt. Mahl and Sgt. Brett Parson who have held that position and understood that they really have to get to know the community and did get to know the community.”
Budd was referring to Parson’s past role as supervisor of the GLLU before leaving that unit to become a patrol sergeant also in the Sixth Police District and both Parson and Mahl’s reputations as highly regarded figures in the LGBT community.
D.C. transgender activist Jeri Hughes, who said she was “very pleased” over Hawkins’ appointment, said she’s certain that Hawkins will quickly become acquainted with the LGBT community and its leaders.
“Let’s be fair,” said Hughes. “She hasn’t been an activist but she will get to know the community just like Brett Parson and Matt Mahl got to know the community.”
When asked about her status in the trans community, Hawkins noted that she transitioned in February 2014 and her presence in the D.C. transgender community has evolved since that time. She said she has since gotten to know many in both the trans and LGBT communities, and she “absolutely welcomes” Budd’s offer to introduce her to community activists and others in the community.
Hawkins said she’s also aware of the constraints faced by the GLLU and other specialized units in the department with personnel shortages brought about by what Police Chief Cathy Lanier has said was a retirement “bubble” in which more officers are retiring than are being replaced by new recruits. Like other specialized units, GLLU members have been detailed to non-GLLU related street patrol duties for half of each of their work shifts in recent months, prompting LGBT activists to complain that patrol details have diminished the GLLU from adequately conducting its work in the LGBT community.
“Yes, our members are detailed to different patrol districts for additional crime patrol,” Hawkins said. “However, the members are still available should the occasion arise for a GLLU call. They are available all eight hours [of their shifts],” she said.
“And my officers are dedicated,” said Hawkins. “We will make sure that when any GLLU call comes out they are going to respond to it. They are going to make sure it’s handled whether they are at home or if they’re on a detail or on crime patrol. They are still going to handle it.”