Community members, LGBTQ advocates, and members of the NYPD gathered at the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in Chelsea to discuss the turbulent relationship between the gay community and the police.
The symposium, organized by the Civilian Complaint Review Board and called “The Rainbow Crossing: Police Accountability and the LGBTQ Community,” had been scheduled for nearly a month but fell three days after the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Audience members at the forum were greeted at the front door by members of the counter-terrorism unit, who were brandishing large guns. While the tragedy in Orlando casted a gloom over the symposium, it re-emphasized the need for closer ties with the police.
People in the LGBTQ community are not shy when it comes to criticizing the NYPD. During the vigil at the Stonewall Inn following the Orlando shootings, members of the crowd booed Police Commissioner William Bratton. Several people said they were offended he spoke at the event at all.
Members of discussion panels during the symposium explained that the majority of complaints arose from situations in which gay people felt they were unfairly stopped on the street or instances where police were purposefully unhelpful. Several panel members cited anecdotes when they felt uncomfortable turning to police when they had been a victim of a crime simply because of their identity.
Bianey Garcia-D la O, a transgender woman who came to New York from Mexico, said she faced particular adversity from the NYPD within her community in Jackson Heights, Queens. Speaking through an interpreter, Garcia-D la O told the story of how police were unresponsive when she and her friends complained that they were being harassed.
She said other transwomen in her neighborhood are frequently stopped and arrested because police think they are prostitutes, a practice she dubbed ”transgressive.” A law enforcement panel, which featured two gay members of the NYPD, sought to show how the department is taking steps toward garnering the trust of the gay community.
Detective Brian Downey, president of the Gay Officers Action League, said that the average officer lacks training on how to deal with situations involving members of the LGBTQ community.
“[The NYPD] is mostly reactive to calls from the LGBT community,” Downey said. “We need to be more proactive.”
Detective Tim Duffy, LGBTQ liaison for the NYPD, introduced new guidelines for handling crimes or interactions with trans individuals in 2012. He now teaches these rules to officers throughout the city.
The NYPD admitted it has significant catching up to do. Moderator Marc Fliedner, who founded the Civil Rights Bureau, explained that this lack of communication and trust between gay communities and police is the root of the numerous complaints.
“People within the NYPD think there’s no problem,” he said.
Marla Erlien, a woman from Harlem, was angered by the law enforcement panel. She called their discussion “pathetic” and felt that they did not address the connection between race, sexual orientation, and policing enough.
Sasha Alexander, founder of Back Trans Media, felt that the Law Enforcement panel was a “set-up.” Alexander said that they avoided talking about the internal discrimination that LGBTQ officers face.
Improving the channels between gay individuals and officers is a daunting task. Experts from all panels echoed the sentiment that it only takes one bad experience for a person to lose faith in the police system. The bad experiences, however, disproportionately happen to gay and transgender people.
The day ended with a closing statement from Mina Malik, the executive director of the CCRB. She said her organization was compiling more data about complaints from members of the LBGTQ community and that an official report is forthcoming.