September 29, 2011 at 10:42 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Police, fire officials meet community

Members of the GLLU and affiliate officers joined fire and EMS officials in meeting the LGBT community at a public forum on Wednesday. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than a dozen affiliate members of the D.C. Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit joined police and Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department officials Wednesday night for a Public Safety Open House for the LGBT community.

The event, organized by the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, gave activists and community members a chance to mingle with the GLLU’s full-time and affiliate officers before the start of a discussion, where police and Fire Department officials answered questions about community concerns.

Activists attending the open house at the city’s Reeves Municipal Building at 14th and U streets, N.W., praised police and fire officials for establishing policies calling for reaching out to the LGBT community and prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination against police officers, firefighters and EMS workers as well as against members of the public.

But several attendees, including transgender activists Ruby Corado and Jason Terry and gay activist Rick Rosendall, said the supportive actions and attitudes of high-level police officials often don’t filter down to the behavior and actions of rank and file officers.

They pointed to a number of recent incidents involving police officers that have shaken the LGBT community. In one case, several officers refused to take a report of an incident in which four lesbians were assaulted by two male attackers who called them anti-gay names. The incident occurred outside the Columbia Heights Metro station.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the incident is under investigation and the officers could be fired depending on the findings of the investigation.

In another incident that shocked LGBT activists, an off-duty D.C. police officer fired his service revolver at three transgender women and two male friends who were sitting in a car in Northwest D.C. Two of the women and one of the men suffered non-life-threatening gunshot wounds. The officer was arrested and charged with assault with a dangerous weapon.

Transgender activist Jeri Hughes said at the open house that police have not adequately investigated other assaults against transgender women, including one recent case where a trans woman was attacked on a Metro Bus.

Hughes said that while the rate of closing homicide cases in D.C. by making an arrest is 80 percent, the rate of solving homicides involving transgender victims is 20 percent.

On hand to answer questions about these and other concerns were Paul Quander, the D.C. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, who oversees the Police and Fire and EMS departments; D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe; Deborah Hassan, an EMS technician who serves as the Fire and EMS Department’s LGBT community liaison; Capt. Edward Delgado, director Police Department Special Liaison Division, which oversees the GLLU; and Sgt. Carlos Mejia, supervisor of the GLLU.

Also speaking at the event was Melissa Hook, director of the city’s Office of Victim Services, which assists crime victims.

Quander opened the discussion by inviting the LGBT community to inform him about issues of interest.

“I work for you,” he said. “I work for the citizens of the District of Columbia. And I need to meet your needs. I need to know what your issues are…and I have to ensure that everyone is treated equally, that everyone has a voice.”

With D.C. gay activist Peter Rosenstein serving as moderator, several LGBT activists responded by reiterating what they said were longstanding concerns. Among them is the view that Lanier weakened the GLLU by reducing the number of officers at its headquarters office, making it less responsive to the community at a time when anti-LGBT hate crimes are on the rise.

Lanier has said a police funding reduction made it necessary to reduce the GLLU headquarters staff from seven officers and a full-time sergeant to four officers and a part-time sergeant. But she has said the affiliate GLLU officer program she started has resulted in the designation of 46 GLLU affiliate officers, who work out of each of the department’s seven police districts. According to Lanier, the affiliates have greatly expanded the reach of the GLLU, enabling it to respond to all sections of the city at all times of the day and night.

Most LGBT activists and the local group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence say they support the affiliate program but believe the direction and leadership of the GLLU must be set by the full-time officers working out of the unit’s headquarters, which is located in Dupont Circle.

Under Lanier’s officer affiliate program, the affiliate members of the GLLU and separate liaison units working with the Latino, Asian, and deaf and hard of hearing communities devote most of their time to their regular patrol duties in the police district to which they are assigned. Upon receiving special training for liaison unit duties, the affiliates are on call to respond to LGBT-related crimes in their respective districts.

Mejia serves as supervisor of the GLLU and the Latino Liaison Unit. Although activists have praised his work in managing the GLLU they say the unit’s effectiveness is diminished by not having a full-time supervisor.

Fire and EMS Department’s LGBT community liaison Deborah Hassan (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Hassan, the Fire and EMS Department’s LGBT liaison, is less known in the LGBT community than GLLU officers.

In an interview before the start of the open house forum, she told the Blade that all firefighters and EMS workers receive diversity training that includes information about the LGBT community. She said she is unaware of any recent complaints by members of the LGBT community about discriminatory treatment by firefighters or EMS workers.

Hassan said she is out as a lesbian at work. She noted that at her request, she was given an official name badge for her uniform that identifies her as an EMS worker and “LGBT Liaison.”

“We’re here for the community, whether you’re straight or gay,” she said during the open house discussion.

Rosenstein, in introducing Delgado at the open house, said he was pleased that Delgado returned to his job as director of the Special Liaison Division. Rosenstein was referring to a decision by Chief Lanier earlier this year to transfer Delgado to another division and replace him at the liaison division post with a civilian police official who had no direct experience in police work such as investigating crimes.

Some activists criticized Lanier for making the change, saying Delgado had worked well with the LGBT community and appeared more knowledgeable on issues likely to come up in the operation of the Special Liaison Division.

“I’m not going to sit here and say we’ve done everything correctly because we’re all human and we all have faults,” Delgado said. “But you can rest assured that the Metropolitan Police Department stands behind the members of the LGBT community because we actually believe that all members of the community should be protected.”

Jeffrey Richardson, director of the Office of GLBT Affairs, said his office plans to hold more public safety open house events for the LGBT community in the future. He and Rosenstein thanked the GLLU officers for attending the event, including those who came during their off-duty hours.

Richardson noted that the names of all affiliate GLLU officers are posted on the Police Department website on the GLLU page. The listing includes e-mail contact information for each of the officers and shows the police district to which they are assigned, enabling members of the LGBT community to identify the GLLU affiliate officer serving the area where they live.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

1 Comment
  • Face-time and public relations exercises by EOM/GLBT and MPD/GLLU are OK, but only as far as they go. Such events are only one small aspect of LGBT community policing. PR is no substitute for solid police work and community patrols.

    MPD/GLLU’s performance is far from matching its public rhetoric. Closing hate crimes cases by sweeping them under the rug — or ignoring DC’s criminal codes altogether — only invites perps to commit more serious hate crimes. Victims and their friends should be especially wary of promises made by today’s MPD/GLLU.

    LGBT activists and residents alike need to keep a skeptical eye on today’s GLLU and its MPD bosses. That goes for their rhetoric and PR, too.

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