ORLANDO, Fla. — The attack at Pulse nightclub remains to have a profound impact on Central Florida — even beyond the terror, tragedy, and loss of 49 lives.
- Pulse shooting galvanized LGBTQ Central Fla. community
- Government, law enforcement making strides in being LGBTQ-inclusive
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“I think it gave us a lot of pride to know our community responded with such a positive and arms way to embrace everyone who was affected,” said Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon.
The attack at Pulse nightclub gave some within the LGTBTQ community, who often feel invisible and voiceless, an opportunity to begin a new stride toward change.
It’s the kind of change government and law enforcement entities themselves are continuing to pursue.
“Our community has become a melting pot of people of all different cultures and different parts of the world that are now calling Orlando home,” Rolon said.
LGBTQ Community and Law Enforcement
The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law estimates more than 9 million Americans identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual; another 1 million identify as transgender. They also estimate Orlando is growing to become the nation’s 10th largest gay city, with Florida as a whole in third.
“We at Orlando Police Department were the first agency in Central Florida many years ago to implement a LGBT liaison program, and since then it’s grown quite a bit,” said Captain James Young, who oversees Orlando Police Department’s Community Outreach division.
That division includes five fulltime officers who serve as LGBTQ community liaisons. Their work is dedicated to meeting with LGBTQ community members and businesses to establish relationships and open dialogue. It is often done face-to-face and sometimes in more subtle ways. That includes the department’s recently re-designed Pride SUV, dedicated to the memories of the Pulse 49.
“The LGBT community sometimes isn’t visible,” Young said. “When you look at an individual, you may not know, so visibility and symbolism and pride symbolism that represents the LGBTQ community helps our community understand we’re inclusive, and you can trust us and you came come to us.”
Young’s proactive approach comes from experience.
He’s been with OPD for 22 years, but faced his personal challenges during his time in the service.
“It was a crime to be gay and serve in the military, and so as I saw those things happening, I knew I had to step up,” Young said.
The changes are happening not just through outreach, but within the department itself. Young, a member of the recently founded Gay Officer Action League Central Florida, says the number of LGBTQ officers and employees of OPD has grown considerably over the years, in addition to pro-LGBTQ policies.
After Pulse, the city and Orlando Police Department rolled out the “Safe Place” initiative to further put front and center their efforts to serve and protect the LGBTQ community.
Former Orlando Police Chief, now Orange County Sheriff, John Mina has since expanded the “Safe Place” initiative county-wide. Businesses can place designated stickers in storefronts as a symbol of safety for victims of LGBTQ crime. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office also has a dedicated team of LGBTQ liaisons.
LGBTQ Community and Government Relations
LGBTQ Liaisons have also become critical roles in administrations.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried this year hired the department’s first ever LGBTQ liaison. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings also appointed his first special assistant tasked with building LGBTQ outreach efforts.
“There’s great pride in the LGBT community, but really pride in our community at large as well,” Demings said. “The best way to ensure inclusion is to have representation within employment and within appointed positions.”
Demings tapped Mark Espeso to lead those efforts. Espeso currently works for the county as a communications specialist in addition to his volunteer work in the community including helping to organize annual Pride events with “Come Out With Pride.”
Government, like society, is always changing.
Orange County and the City of Orlando have both long offered benefits for LGBTQ employees, as leaders have passed public policies to provide various civil protections.
The city itself has long touted its progressive efforts, which include approving a Domestic Partnership Registry in 2011, supporting same sex marriage, and passing anti-discrimination policies. Many of those efforts have been led by long time Mayor Buddy Dyer and Commissioner Patty Sheehan, the city’s first openly gay commissioner.
Orlando is also one of five major Florida cities to earn a 100 on Human Rights Campaign’s annual Municipal Equality Index, outranking Miami, Daytona Beach, and Pembroke Pines.
2018 HRC Municipal Equality Index
- Cape Coral | 39
- Coral Gables | 59
- Daytona Beach | 30
- Fort Lauderdale | 98
- Gainesville | 96
- Hialeah | 39
- Hollywood | 46
- Jacksonville | 79
- Miami | 55
- Miami Shores | 81
- Oakland Park | 97
- Orlando | 100
- Pembroke Pines | 71
- Port Saint Lucie | 39
- St. Petersburg | 100
- Tallahassee | 99
- Tampa | 100
- Wilton Manors | 100
While there have been significant strides, Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon says progress is forever in the making.
“It is vital for law enforcement profession to always do its best to earn the trust of the community and people we serve. We understand that trust takes a lot of work to earn, but we also know it could take one incident to potentially affect the trust given to us, so we constantly have to work on that,” Rolon said.
WATCH: Click the video player above to watch the full extended story on how local agencies are working to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ community.