The Morris County Sheriff’s Office hosted an LGBTQ Community Informational Session for members of Morris County Law Enforcement on October 2, 2019, that covered topics such as the history of the LGBTQ Community, the history of Law Enforcement’s relationship with the LGBTQ Community, the Safe Space Initiative in Morris County, and Bias Crime Reporting Policy and Procedure.
The four-hour session was moderated by Morris County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Ashley Craig, the agency’s LGBTQ law enforcement liaison Officer and involved brainstorming and open-hearted discussion.
The session brought together Christian Fuscarino, executive director of the 15-year-old Garden State Equality organization, David D’Amico, Chief Investigator for the Middlesex County Department of Corrections and LGBTQ Law Enforcement Liaison, Connor Johnson, a Morristown Police Officer, Butler Police Chief Ciro Chimento, president of the Morris County Chiefs of Police Association, members of the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, Morris County Police Chiefs, and other leaders in the LGBTQ community.
The forum’s purpose was both to share information and educate law enforcement agencies on the troubled history of the LGBTQ Community as well as the potential problems that the LGBTQ Community face today. The forum was also meant to provide support to law enforcement Officers who are part of the LGBTQ community, and their agencies.
Having LGBTQ law enforcement liaisons in police departments is vital to letting the community know their safety matters, Chief Investigator D’Amico said.
“The liaison Officers are a resource for you to build a bridge of trust with the LGBTQ community,” he said.
Some members of the LGBTQ Community fear reporting their victimization to police because their sexual orientation then is revealed.
“It’s obvious from history that people who do not fit into specific slots can be targeted. Treated violently. Bullied. Driven to suicide. Murdered. All the legislation and court cases in the nation can’t alter hateful mindsets,” Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon told the group in opening remarks.
“In sessions like this, we can work on increasing acceptance and inclusion and ensuring that all individuals who make up the LGBTQ community are safe from discrimination and verbal and physical violence,” Sheriff Gannon said.
LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Questioning. Although networks already were built, the LGBTQ movement for equality in healthcare, housing and employment, and freedom from harassment, verbal and physical violence gained momentum 50 years ago through the Stonewall riots, a series of demonstrations by members of the gay community against a police raid on June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York.
Director Fuscarino said New Jersey has strong protections for the LGBTQ community. Astoundingly, however, it is still legal in 28 states to be fired for identifying as LGBTQ, he said.
“The LGBTQ civil rights battles are far from over,” he said.
Investigator Craig is the LGBTQ Liaison Officer for the Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Law Enforcement. Her counterpart in the Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Corrections, Officer Anthony Perez, also was at Wednesday’s session. Garden State Equality and its LGBTQ Law Enforcement Liaisons are committed to fostering positive relationships between the LGBTQ community and law enforcement agencies within the State of New Jersey. These Liaisons also advocate internally within the criminal justice system for LGBTQ community members who need help navigating law enforcement interactions.
Additionally, the LGBTQ Law Enforcement Liaisons work within their own agencies to build affirming and inclusive workplace environments for other LGBTQ-identified officers.
“All the LGBTQ community wants is respect. They want to be treated like everybody else. By Investigator Ashley Craig and the Morris County Sheriff’s Office putting this program together, it starts to build that respect. By you and Anthony (Officer Perez) being visible in this organization, it starts to build that respect in the community,” Chief Investigator D’Amico said.
Other speakers at the session included Morristown Officer Connor Johnson, Morris County Prosecutor’s Office Detective Supervisor Patrick LaGuerre, Len Resto of the Gay Activist Alliance in Morris County, Gordon Sauer of SAGE and Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, Joseph Byrne of EDGE Pride Center of Morris County, Rev. Dr. Debra Duke and Pastor Peggy Ludlow, both of the Rainbow Café at the Community Church of Mountain Lakes.