Activists, Orange law enforcement agencies discuss LGBTQ issues in public safety forum
Nikole Parker has experienced hate for being trans for as long as she can remember.
As early as the third grade, she remembers bullies targeting her for being flamboyant and, in one instance, having her pants pulled down and being told, “You see what you have? Act like that.”
That sort of treatment is par for the course for trans women and members of the LGBTQ community at large, she said.
“That’s something that’s not talked about a lot,” said Parker, now event and community outreach coordinator at the OnePulse Foundation. “And not just trans — we’re talking about LGBTQ, the whole spectrum — go through things, and we internalize it and feel like we did something wrong or we threw it in their face. And I think that’s a conversation we need to continue to have, that this is not OK, nobody is supposed to put their hands on you and mistreat you and it’s OK to talk about it.”
It was one of many topics discussed Thursday as the organizations that make up the coalition OneOrlando Alliance hosted a series of panel discussions with community activists and representatives of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Orlando Police Department. The idea, organizers said, was to give voice to members of the LGBTQ+ community, who continually face discrimination and have experienced and increase in hate crimes.
Violence against the LGBTQ+ community has been on the rise over the last few years, according to FBI data. And in 2017, homicides against the community rose 86 percent from 2016, excluding the 49 killed in the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub that year, according to a 2018 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.
Those figures, along with concerns surrounding workplace discrimination and homelessness among LGBTQ+ people, make the conversation with law enforcement necessary, advocates say. Despite Central Florida agencies making strides in connecting with members of the community, including creating the only Gay Officers Action League in the southern U.S., activists say more needs to be done to establish trust with law enforcement.
However, being able to have those conversations with Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolón, Orange County Undersheriff Mark Canty and other law enforcement representatives in the room is a step forward, organizers of Thursday night’s event said.
“Talking about police bias, talking about racial injustice that takes place in our communities and talking about violence against the LGBTQ community is something that provokes a lot of anxiety and makes a lot of people uncomfortable, especially when you’re confronted with individuals who experience that personal or systemic violence,” said Christopher Cuevas, executive director of QLatinx, which, along with OnePulse Foundation, is part of OneOrlando Alliance. “I think our willingness to sit in that discomfort to learn from and be responsive to that is what makes our community unique, but not without critique.”
Rolón and other officials said law enforcement continues to learn about the issues facing LGBTQ people in the community after Pulse and the 2018 death of Sasha Garden, a transgender woman whose murder sparked controversy after the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and several Orlando news outlets referred to her as a man.
“Unfortunately, in law enforcement, a lot of times, we learn the greatest when we mess up,” said Canty, who also noted the Sheriff’s Office has taken steps to reach out to the LGBTQ community, including through its Safe Place Initiative, which began last month.
The challenge, officials said, is when the lack of trust in police reaches the point that many hate crimes go unreported. While the number of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes has increased, experts say the figures are conservative.
“I have a feeling that for every one incident that’s being documented that involves a transgender person as being the victim, there’s probably 10 or more out there that are going unreported,” Rolón said. “We need to raise public awareness when it comes to this particular issue.”
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