By Adam Rhodes
The Chicago Police Department plans to tap a city-wide liaison to the LGBT community, police officials told Medill News Service, months after an on-duty sergeant allegedly raped a transgender woman. The move follows the release of a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality that paints a bleak picture of how the city’s police treat transgender people.
Glen Brooks, director of community policing for the Chicago Police Department, said that while this will be the department’s first formal city-wide LGBT liaison, CPD officers have for years made informal connections with the LGBT community. Brooks said the new role is part of a consent decree between the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois aimed at reforming the department. The role will ultimately be tasked with ensuring that the department’s policies are inclusive and respectful.
“It’s important for us to have a strong relationship with all of our residents,” Brooks said. “In order to ensure that we get the greatest safety and the best understanding and provide better service, that is essentially what we’re trying to do.”
Jamie Frazier, founder and lead pastor at Lighthouse Church of Chicago, is hopeful yet skeptical about the new liaison, who Brooks said will be selected by the police superintendent “sooner than later.”
“What other steps are being put in place to ensure that the liaison can get the heartbeat of the community and that the liaison can partner with the community to make long standing change?” asked Frazier, who leads a group of activists at the newly formed Lighthouse Foundation, focused on LGBT rights and racial equity.
LGBT activists in Chicago are concerned, like other minority groups, that the police are not trained or engaged enough with the community to police them respectfully and equally. For LGBT people of color, those concerns are compounded and complicated by the color of their skin.
Frazier’s concerns come after the Chicago Tribune reported in June that the department was investigating an African American transgender woman’s report that a Chicago police supervisor raped her in a marked police vehicle on the West Side in March.
The department did not respond to multiple requests for an update on this case. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said it could neither confirm nor deny an investigation into the alleged rape.
The Tribune’s report came days after Dennis Byrd, a gay Black man, said the owner of Boystown costume and vintage clothing store Beatnix had the police called when he complained about a confederate flag vest on sale.
Byrd said he felt the call was aimed at him because of his race.
“That felt very much like a weaponization of the violence that has been inflicted by the police on people in public, particularly black men and particularly deadly violence,” Byrd said of the May 25 incident.
Management at Beatnix did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In 2019, a National Center for Transgender Equality report criticized the police department’s written policies, as well as its officers’ treatment of the transgender community. According to the report, department policy doesn’t require officers to be trained on dealing with transgender people and also “refers to gender nonconforming people, but does not explicitly recognize nonbinary gender identities, or state how policies on pronouns, searches, or placement apply to them.”
The report, however, lauds a department policy that requires officers to address the public by their chosen names and pronouns and makes readily available its policies related to interacting with the transgender community.
In response to the NCTE report, Brooks said, the department has made efforts to update its policies to be more inclusive and aims to roll out new policies in the coming months.
The U.S. Department of Justice, in 2017, knocked the department’s efforts to serve the LGBT community, following an investigation into the department. In the report, the DOJ said the department’s single LGBT liaison at the time was “insufficient to ensure collaboration and ongoing partnership with this community.”
Efforts to tap a formal LGBT liaison come just months into the first term of the city’s first openly gay mayor Lori Lightfoot. Brooks said the position is a priority for the new mayor.
“The mayor would like us to implement the changes required by the consent decree with the greatest of urgency and I think that is what we’re working towards,” Brooks said. “This issue is definitely one of the ones that there’s an urgency with.”
As the third-largest city in the nation, however, Chicago stands out in its lack of a formal liaison within the police department dedicated to working with the LGBT community. Larger departments in New York City and Los Angeles boast programs of their own focused on the LGBT community.
LGBT advocacy group Lambda Legal’s “Protected and Served?” report, compiled from responses from nearly 2,400 LGBT or HIV-positive adults in the U.S., demonstrates a need for better LGBT community-police relations as it details rampant, and oftentimes homophobic, mistreatment toward the LGBT community from the police.
The report states that 25% of survey respondents who had contact with police reported experiencing at least one form of police misconduct, including physical assault, false accusations of a crime and sexual harassment; and as a separate report from the National Center for Transgender Equality details, the transgender community is particularly susceptible to police violence.
According to NCTE’s 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, compiled from responses from more than 27,700 transgender adults in the U.S., more than half of respondents who in the year prior dealt with “police or law enforcement officers who thought or knew they were transgender” said they faced some type of mistreatment at the hands of officers, including verbal harassment and physical and sexual assault.
These are not novel examples of struggles and tensions between the LGBT community and police, however, when evidence shows that queerness has been criminalized in myriad ways.
Police have historically harassed and arrested gender-nonconforming people and others who dressed in ways that did not align with their biological sex, the New York Times reported in June. According to the Times’ report, New York police officers as recently as the 1960s arrested people under a law mandating that people be wearing at least three articles of clothing in line with their biological sex, as opposed to their gender identity.
The Stonewall Riots of 1969 — widely understood to be the birth of the current LGBT rights movement — were a response by the LGBT community, particularly LGBT people of color, to a police raid on a gay bar in New York City. Just last year, the 50th anniversary of the riots, then-New York City Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill formally apologized for the Stonewall Inn raids that incited the riots.
In defense of CPD, Brooks emphasized that Chicago police have for decades made inroads with the LGBT public in neighborhoods like Boystown and Andersonville that are popular with queer Chicagoans.
“We know that as a police department, and as a community, the more that we work together and understand the issues that [they] face, the more we can provide the best service possible,” Brooks said.