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How the Dallas Police are using local businesses to keep the LGBTQ community safe

Officer Megan Thomas, the city’s new LGBTQ liaison, is helping launch the Safe Place initiative, allowing local businesses to act as safe havens for victims of hate crimes.
Dallas Police Department’s new LGBTQ+ liaison, officer Megan Thomas, shares printed materials with media explaining the Safe Place Program aimed at involving members of the business sector to assist police by providing safe havens for targets of hate crimes until officers can arrive in times of imminent danger. The launch of the Safe Place Program was held at the Dallas Police Department headquarters at 1400 Botham Jean Blvd. on June 28, 2021. (Steve Hamm/ Special Contributor)(Steve Hamm)

By Lauren Girgis

As Pride Month draws to a close, the Dallas Police Department is launching a program for victims of hate crimes to seek asylum in local businesses. The department also is organizing a group to step up outreach and communication with the LGBTQ community.

The Safe Place program, an initiative formed in Seattle that has launched in 200 cities, including Austin, allows local businesses to assist victims of hate crimes.

Businesses participating in the program receive rainbow decal stickers, and employees will get training for how to shelter victims and notify police of a crime.

“We’re not gonna tolerate hate,” Police Chief Eddie Garcia said on Monday. “We ensure that our community, and our most vulnerable, know that they’re going to be protected, not just by the individuals wearing a uniform, but by businesses and their partners and the rest of this community.”

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One of the 18 participating locations is the Dallas Rape Crisis Center. CEO Amy Jones said the center heard about the program through its involvement on the advisory board.

“We recognize that sexual violence impacts everyone, but certain groups are even more vulnerable than others,” Jones said. “We are constantly looking at ways that we can make sure we’re communicating to all community members that when we say everyone is welcome here … we actually mean that.”

The efforts come after years of what the department’s new LGBTQ liaison, Officer Megan Thomas, refers to as a “strained relationship” between police and the community.

Dallas Police Department's new LGBTQ+ liaison, officer Megan Thomas, displays the Safe Place business designations for potential targets of hate crimes until police can arrive. Police Chief Eddie Garcia looks on in the background. The launch of the Safe Place Program was held at the Dallas police Department headquarters at 1400 Botham Jean Blvd. in Dallas on June 28, 2021. (Steve Hamm/ Special Contributor)
Dallas Police Department’s new LGBTQ+ liaison, officer Megan Thomas, displays the Safe Place business designations for potential targets of hate crimes until police can arrive. Police Chief Eddie Garcia looks on in the background. The launch of the Safe Place Program was held at the Dallas police Department headquarters at 1400 Botham Jean Blvd. in Dallas on June 28, 2021. (Steve Hamm/ Special Contributor)(Steve Hamm)

The liaison role, formed in the ’90s, is intended to serve as an avenue for community members and help employees to address their safety concerns, as well as provide training about the community to officers.

Thomas is focused on creating a community board, or a group comprised of organization leaders and individual advocates, by August to receive feedback on how the department needs to improve.

Some LGBTQ community members feel over-policed, Thomas learned during a June 9 meet-and-greet, where residents told her about the issue in the Cedar Springs strip of Oak Lawn, a historically gay community.

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“What I’ve already started to do is reaching out to the Black trans women and men, and figuring out where they’re located, figuring out how the Dallas Police Department can be of assistance to them,” Thomas said.

Thomas is also working on ensuring officers receive continued training throughout their time with the department. And she is creating a flyer on the history of the community and its interactions with policing for officers to receive training outside of the month of June.

Thomas, a former U.S. Navy Officer, said she feels the conflict between the force and the LGBTQ community often emerges from officers’ lack of knowledge.

“My goal is education,” Thomas said. “I feel like the reason why a lot of people don’t trust police officers … or that police officers have such a strained relationship (with the LGBTQ community) is because they’re not educated on what the LGBTQ community faces and how they feel, and the history behind that.”

For activists, the city’s history of violent crime, and the lack of justice that arose out of such incidents, has marred the department’s image.

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The city received a score of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign’s 2020 Municipal Equality Index, which examines how inclusive cities’ laws, policies and services are for the LGBTQ+ community annually. It’s the highest score a city can receive as it is judged on categories that include having a LGBTQ liaison within a police department and reporting hate crime statistics to the FBI.

“In instances of violence against LGBTQ people, LGBTQ police liaisons can help ensure that bias-motivated crimes are properly investigated and reported, victims are not misgendered, and the community is kept abreast of the investigation’s progress,” the report said.

Dallas led the nation in transgender murders in 2019. During April of that year, 22-year-old Muhlaysia Booker was beaten by a mob of men in Oak Cliff and was found dead a month later. Days after she died, 26-year-old Chynal Lindsey was found dead in White Rock Lake, and then 35-year-old Daniela Calderon was shot multiple times in September of that year.

The brutal attacks drew attention to the violence community members face at the intersection of being LGBTQ and people of color.

But the problem is not unique to Dallas. In 2019, at least 27 transgender or gender non-conforming people were murdered nationwide, a total of 44 fatalities were tracked in 2020, and so far, at least 28 transgender or gender non-conforming people were fatally shot or killed by other violent means this year. These numbers may not reflect a true count, the Human Rights Campaign says, because these crimes often go unreported or misreported.

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Following the attacks in 2019, the Dallas Police Department hosted a town hall to address safety concerns and organized a free self-defense class.

In 2020, a group of community activists drafted 10 demands for city and county leaders to adopt policies to reverse systemic racism and a history of discriminatory policing. One of them asked law enforcement to be more aware of the needs and demands of groups, such as trans people, and said the department should document its interactions with any and all disenfranchised members of the community.

Stacey Monroe, an LGBTQ activist, said she could no longer work with the department following the way it handled the attack on Calderon, a Latina transgender woman who was shot six times in September 2019.

“When I needed help from the Dallas Police Department, they weren’t able to help me, but they were always asking, ‘Hey, can you show up to this advisory board meeting? Can you do this for DPD? Can you advocate for DPD?’” Monroe said. “But at the same time, when I needed them to help advocate for [Calderon], to try to connect resources to her, they waited until the last minute.”

Dallas police spokeswoman Melinda Gutierrez said the department met with Calderon to offer services and resources, but was not able to provide Monroe with that information since she was not a relative.

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Monroe said her desire to discontinue working with the department — and all police agencies — was solidified in summer 2020, when she witnessed the Dallas police go into “a military state of police.” In response to protests following George Floyd’s murder, the department, like others in the nation, resorted to using rubber pellets and tear gas to disperse crowds.

“It feels like they are just doing lip service,” Monroe said.

Nell Gaither, president of the Trans Pride Initiative, said the group has no plans to work with the police after what she described as years of misgendering and mistreating trans people.

“Completely defund the police,” Gaither said. “Put money into actually addressing the issues that are needed such as housing.”

Officers connected on Monday with local businesses to distribute stickers for the Safe Place program.

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“A lot of it comes down to us talking and reaching out,” Thomas said, “because if we don’t reach out and we don’t ask the right questions, we don’t know what’s going on. Then they just keep it a secret.”

CORRECTION, 12 p.m., June 29, 2021: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Stacey Monroe was a member of La Organización Latina de Trans en Texas. Monroe is not currently associated with an organization.

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