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D.C. Police Appoint First Trans Woman to Lead LGBT Liaison Unit

D.C. Police Appoint First Trans Woman to Lead LGBT Liaison Unit


Trans advocates are cheering the appointment of Sgt. Jessica Hawkins, but say that she will still face an uphill battle to build trust with D.C.'s trans communities and law enforcement.

The first out trans woman to head Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit is Sgt. Jessica Hawkins, who was appointed earlier this month, according to the Washington Blade.

In her new role, Hawkins will supervise a group of officers dedicated to the public safety needs of LGBT and allied communities throughout D.C. According to its website, the GLLU achieves this by patrolling and responding to citizen complaints, as well as conducting public education campaigns on safety and hate crimes -- all with the intent of gaining the trust of LGBT citizens, so that citizens will offer more information to close cases of bias-motivated and violent crime against LGBT people.

Hawkins, who will be replacing Sgt. Matthew Mahl, told the Blade she was excited to begin her position on March 3, noting that one of her key focuses will be building trust between the police department and D.C.'s transgender communities.

"As far as my plans for the GLLU, I want to reinforce its necessity in the community as well as in the department and to be more inclusive with the transgender community," she explained. "Obviously the GLLU has done a great job with the gay and lesbian community. ... And now I want to mend the bridges between the transgender community and the police department."

A recent review of MPD's priorities by the Hate Crimes Assessment Task Force reported by the Blade indicates why such a need exists. As part of the "report card," the D.C. Trans Coalition expressed concern that the MPD's overall diminished capacity, as well as the fact that GLLU members are now assigned to regular patrols, will "dramatically [reduce] the unit's capacity to engage in proactive outreach and relationship-building, especially among trans populations."

"It is imperative that MPD officers at all levels be accessible to trans communities and be visible at trans-serving organizations," the statement continued. "Undoing years of mistrust will take a long-term, concentrated, proactive effort to establish new relationships. ... Ultimately trans communities need to see a shift in interactions on the street and believe that their needs are taken seriously when they request police service."

While the MPD scored low overall on the LGBT report card, its appointment of Hawkins to a leadership position was reportedly one bright spot. The sergeant herself told the Blade she's aware of the issues raised by the D.C. Trans Coalition, and that her officers will still be available to answer GLLU-related calls throughout their entire shifts.

Meanwhile, trans advocates throughout D.C. are cautiously optimistic about Hawkins supervising the GLLU. Some are basing that caution in the fact that Hawkins has only been an active member of trans communities since she publicly came out -- to a standing ovation -- at last year's D.C. Transgender Day of Remembrance. To some skeptics, that indicates that Hawkins still has a learning curve when it comes to relations with the city's trans citizens, despite identifying as trans herself.

"I'm very pleased to hear and, yes, ecstatic that the city has moved forward with putting a transgender person in such a position, which is needed within the police department," veteran trans activist Earline Budd told the Blade. "But at the end of the day, I just really need to know that Sgt. Hawkins understands what she's taking on in terms of that position based on those like Sgt. Mahl and Sgt. Brett Parson, who has held that position and understood that they really have to get to know the community and did get to know the community."

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Mitch Kellaway