Dozens of Miami police officers — including the chief and top brass — have introduced their first LGBTQ liaison, an out 21-year-old public information officer who joined the department just after high school.
“As an organization, we really came to a consensus that forming an LGBTQ detail and having a liaison is a necessity for our community and for our city,” the new liaison, Officer Christopher Bess, told residents at a neighborhood meeting Aug. 29 at Legion Park in Northeast Miami. “We’re doing everything that we can as an organization to get the message out that we stand behind you — whether you’re straight, whether you are gay, whether you are a lesbian, bisexual, etc.”
Bess, who grew up gay in Miami Shores, graduated in 2014 from Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Senior High School next door to the city’s police department in downtown Miami. He then became a cop, with “no concerns” about being publicly out.
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Several South Florida police departments, including Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, have long had LGBTQ liaisons to their respective communities. The Miami police department began considering such a role more than three years ago.
After the Pulse gay nightclub shooting June 12, 2016, in Orlando that left 49 victims dead, Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes and his department heads “came to a consensus” that the department needed a liaison to work with and help protect the city’s large LGBTQ community, Bess said.
“I was appointed LGBTQ liaison,” Bess said. “Our mission is to get the message across to our residents and also our straight allies, our business owners — anyone who we can get the message to. ... The message is: ‘Whether your are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, we see you as city of Miami resident and we will not treat you any differently.’
“And for the offenders out there who frown upon our LGBTQ community, we’d like to send a message to them: ‘That we as a police department and as a city will not tolerate it.’ ”
While about 30 police employees showed up, fewer than 10 residents came to the meeting. During a Facebook Live video stream from the Legion Park community room, several Miami activists commented that they hadn’t even heard about the event. Police leaders say they’ll hold additional LGBTQ meetings throughout the city and, hopefully, do a better job promoting them.
One resident who did attend described the event as “grand.”
“That an entire department can come out here with the level of officials that have come out — I’m sorry we didn’t get the word out because we are such a much larger community. It deserved the audience,” said Mylene Santana, who has lived 18 years in the Shorecrest neighborhood.
“The initiative is fantastic,” she continued. “It’s needed because this is a community that I would probably say was built by the gay community. We need that, especially now, when everything is all about hate and division. It’s important that they do establish a platform that would help us in this community.”
Also at the meeting: Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, front-runner to become the city’s next mayor in November.
“The department is very supportive of the LGBT community,” Suarez told the Miami Herald. “It’s wonderful to see that all high-ranking officers are here, so it’s not just the mayor, or one or two chiefs. It’s really all the brass in the police department. That really highlights the effort that’s being made.”
Suarez said “it’s important for us to showcase our inclusivity as a department, as a city.”
“That’s one of our strengths, quite frankly,” Suarez said. “In today’s day and age, where law enforcement is under so much scrutiny, it’s important to harp on positive things, things that promote inclusion, promote building a city where everyone can feel comfortable, everyone can feel they’re a part of it,” he said.
Bess, the new liaison, said it’s important people in Miami know “our police department is a direct reflection of our community.”
“Our police officers are residents and our neighbors, therefore we do have officers who are part of the LGBTQ population and community,” he said. “That’s something that we would like to convey to our residents: ‘Look, we’re just like you guys. We have partners. We have loved ones. And we’re also very proud to represent the LGBTQ community and population.’ ”