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22 February 2011, 4:00 pm 9 Comments

Politics: Whatever happened to the GLLU, Mr. Mayor?

This post was submitted by A.M. Bowen

This is a part of the week long TNG

A slightly weathered sign on Dupont Circle still points to the GLLU office.

exclusive, investigating the rise and fall (and reformulation) of the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit in Washington, D.C.

Is the GLLU Ever Coming Back

“I think they would have a frosty machine in Hell before that thing came back.”

So said Sampson McCormick, a D.C.-area comedian and organizer with the Metropolitan Network Against Homophobia, when I asked him whether he thought the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU) of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) would be reconstituted to its strength of a few years ago.

McCormick is among the most visible activists in the DC area when it comes to hate crimes and interactions between the MPD and the LGBT community. I interviewed several local LGBT activists and the current supervisor of the GLLU, Sgt. Carlos Mejia, about the current state of the GLLU. My primary focus was whether the GLLU — in the style of its earlier, more active incarnation — was coming back. While McCormick’s response was certainly the most literary, it was in line with what other activists said — but not Sgt. Mejia, who argued that the GLLU hadn’t really changed.

Until the summer of 2009, the GLLU — based out of an office in Dupont Circle, an historically LGBT community in DC — investigated and guarded against hate crimes, did aggressive community outreach, taught other officers about LGBT people, and gave information on hate crimes investigations back to concerned community members. If some LGBT person was involved in a crime or had some safety concerns, that person could call the GLLU’s pager, talk to an officer from the unit, and get a GLLU officer on the scene. Long-time activists who had seen countless forms of anti-LGBT prejudice from the MPD applauded. The MPD was still far from being entirely LGBT-friendly, but the GLLU was a welcome policy shift.

Then, around the fall of 2009, the unit shrank its core number of officers, and the Sergeant in charge of the unit ceased reporting directly to the Chief of Police. There was once a highly visible, core group of officers solving hate crimes and going to events. Since these changes took place in 2009, that hasn’t been the case. MPD Chief of Police Cathy Lanier announced in 2007 — and reiterated when the 2009 changes took place — a plan to train GLLU “affiliate” officers throughout the department in LGBT issues. While some saw this as a welcome step, it didn’t quell the bulk of activists’ frustration. These changes to the GLLU — which some have referred to as “decentralization” — angered members of the LGBT community, many of whom asked that the GLLU be restored to its earlier form.

In last year’s Mayoral Election, then-mayoral candidate Vincent Gray (D) made statements that implied he understood the community’s outrage. “I’ve…spoken passionately about the important role that the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit…has in preventing and addressing [hate] crimes,” he said in the DC LGBT magazine Metro Weekly. Gray was contrasting himself to then-Mayor Adrian Fenty (D), who supported Lanier’s policy. To the Washington Blade, an LGBT newspaper, Gray said he wouldn’t necessarily defer to Lanier’s judgment with the GLLU.

Now, a month and a half into the Gray Administration, activists with connections to the GLLU admit that the unit probably isn’t coming back into its heralded, more active form any time soon.

“I don’t think Gray’s going to get [the GLLU] reconstituted. I think it was a campaign promise, with all the validity that any campaign promise has ever had, ” said Jason Terry, a member of the DC Trans Coalition (DCTC), in an interview between myself and three DCTC members in early January 2011.

Terry, on behalf of DCTC, is part of an MPD-created “Critical Incident Team.” The “Critical Incident Team” receives briefings on hate crimes from the current GLLU and develops trainings for GLLU “affiliate officers.”

Terry noted that GLLU changed, and will probably remain in its current incarnation, at least partly because of practical barriers.

“I don’t think they [MPD] can afford it,” he said. “They say they don’t have enough beat cops. They’re not going to take people off the beat anymore, so I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

I also exchanged emails with Kelly Pickard and Joe Montoni, Co-Chairs of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) and members of the Critical Incident Team as of the writing of this article. GLOV worked with GLLU in the period before the 2009 restructuring.

When asked if there were plans to move or reconstitute the GLLU, Pickard replied, “Well, I am not sure that reconstitution is the right word to use for this discussion. In all honesty, I think we have to get away from this notion that the GLLU will ever be the same as it was….”

As supervisor of the GLLU since fall 2009, Sgt. Carlos Mejia is central to this story. I exchanged several emails with him in mid-February 2011. I threw my hypothesis at Sgt. Mejia — that the GLLU as it was before the 2009 restructuring wouldn’t return — and he argued that the unit had never even really changed.

“There has been a long standing misperception in the community that the GLLU was de-centralized,” he wrote. “The GLLU was never de-centralized. In 2007 Chief Lanier combined all of the Metropolitan Police Department’s liaison units under one command[:] the Special Liaison Unit (SLU). The work done by the GLLU, including conducting outreach to the LGBT community, working with LGBT resource agencies, and conducting training for the police department has not changed.”

While Sgt. Mejia arguably dissented from the activists he works with, his statement effectively supports the argument that a GLLU like that of earlier in the ’00s isn’t likely to come back. If he doesn’t think the unit’s work has changed, he’s probably not working to change it back to any earlier form.

That said, LGBT activists involved in the Critical Incident Team describe a changed GLLU, and a slowly — if sometimes painfully — cohering new relationship between the MPD and LGBT activists.

In tomorrow’s installment: a history of the GLLU, through the glory days of the mid-’00s.

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