Police and Pride in Hampton Roads
By Aaron Keen
According to the former president of Hampton Roads pride, Michael Berlucchi, LGBT individuals are disproportionally victims of hate crimes. As Hampton Roads prepares to celebrate it’s 30th Pride Fest, pride organizers are working to bridge connections between the police department and the LGBT community. Berlucchi says Hampton Roads Pride wants to strengthen the relationship with local law enforcement. Law enforcement seeks to diversify their police force by including officers who identify as LGBT. In an effort to diversify their police force, local law enforcement are actively recruiting officers identify as LGBT. “We want people who are interested, people who are talented, people who want to be police officers,” notes Virginia Beach Police Sgt. Michele Meister. Along with colleagues from other departments form the reginal LGBT Public Safety Consortium. Her job entails going out into the community correcting misconceptions and stereotypes about the LGBT community.
Fawn Faulks, the current president of Hampton Roads Pride, worked at the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office for a number of years. She notes that the liaison officers’ positions allow people to be who they are at work. “When I started in law enforcement in the 90s, you weren't ‘out’ as you call it. You didn’t hold hands. You didn’t say my wife is at home as a law enforcement officer.” Echoing Faulks’ sentiments, Meister believes “The position itself has not only been beneficial to the community but gives voices to those in the department who didn’t feel comfortable voicing those before.”
Hampton Roads Regional Jail announced that it is adding two LGBT liaison positions, which will be part of the LGBT Public Safety Consortium. It is their goal to expand into other public safety offices and make the LGBT community feel more welcome to pursue those positions. Berlucchi says, “We really want to emphasize is for everyone to fulfill their full potential as human beings and we want anyone who is interested in any field to be welcomed and embraced and contribute to their communities and serve their communities.”
Bridging the gap between law enforcement and the LGBT community is crucial for tearing down stereotypes, celebrating diversity and providing new job opportunities for those who may have at one time felt excluded from a career in law enforcement. Hampton Roads provides a great model for other communities to emulate.