The LGBTQ LIAISON TO THE DEPARTMENT OF SAFETY AND THE DIVISION OF POLICE is a municipal position in Cleveland that was established in July 2018 in order to improve relations between the police and Cleveland’s LGBTQ community. Director of Public Safety Michael McGrath named Commander Deirdre Jones as the first LGBTQ Liaison. Shortly afterwards, Mayor Frank Jackson named Kevin Schmotzer as the first LGBTQ Liaison to the city and mayor's office.

LGBTQ activists in Cleveland had called for the creation of an LGBTQ police liaison years before the position was established. In 2013, a petition initiated by Brian Tupaz and addressed to Mayor Frank Jackson, the Cleveland City Council, and Safety Director Martin Flask was circulated on, advocating for the creation of an LGBT liaison to the police department and an LGBT liaison to the mayor’s office. Phyllis Harris, the Executive Director of the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, also pushed for the city to establish an LGBT police liaison in December 2013.

The calls to establish an LGBTQ police liaison in 2013 were prompted by a series of hate crimes and a sense by the community that the police response was inadequate.

In September 2013, there were two attacks on gay men outside of the gay bar Cocktails. Several days later, Safety Director Martin Flask issued a warning to Cocktails for excessive 911 calls that placed an “undue burden” on the city’s taxpayers and safety forces, which was met with criticism by the community. The letter was ultimately rescinded, and Flask pledged to meet with the bar’s owners to address the issues that prompted the emergency calls.

In December 2013, two transgender women, Brittany Stergis and Betty Skinner, were killed within two days, stirring fears within the community over increasing hate crimes again. after the death of another transgender woman, Cemia Acoff, in January of that same year. In the case of Cemia Acoff, local and national LGBTQ organizations and activists sharply criticized the Cleveland Police Department and local news media for their coverage of her death and called on them to follow established guidelines on transgender reporting.

Activists in 2013 also saw the upcoming 2014 Gay Games as an urgent reason to establish an LGBTQ police liaison who could address hate crimes and improve community relations. 

Cleveland was also pushed to improve relations between the police and the LGBTQ community by the federal government. In 2015, the City of Cleveland entered into a consent decree with the Department of Justice following an investigation into its policing practices. The terms of the agreement included the requirement that the Cleveland Police Department conduct annual community and problem-oriented police training which specifically included the promotion of engagement with the LGBT community. 

Cleveland’s evaluation by the national LGBTQ rights organization the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) also promoted the establishment of an LGBTQ liaison. The HRC publishes an annual Municipal Equality Index which evaluates the inclusivity of cities for LGBTQ people based on their policies concerning non-discrimination, relationship recognition, municipal employment, services and programs, law enforcement, and the relationship with the LGBT community. In 2013, Cleveland received an 83 out of a possible 100, lower than other major cities in Ohio like Columbus and Cincinnati, and in 2018, Cleveland scored only an 81. Establishing the police liaison was a significant step in efforts to improve the city’s evaluation, as it is weighted as one of the most important components of a city’s inclusiveness.

Since the first appointment of the LGBTQ Liaison to the Department of Safety and the Division of Police, there have been changes in the relationship between Cleveland’s LGBTQ community and the police. From 2018, the year that the LGBTQ police liaison and city liaison were created, to 2021, Cleveland has earned the highest score possible on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index. In December 2021, the Cleveland Division of Police adopted a new policy for interactions with transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming individuals backed by the LGBTQ Liaison to the Department of Safety and the Division of Police that requires officers to address individuals with their preferred name and pronouns matching their gender identity, prohibits stops and searchers in order to determine an individual’s gender, and recognizes that possession of needles may indicate use of prescribed hormone therapy rather than illicit drugs.

The creation of the LGBTQ Liaison to the Department of Safety and the Division of Police marked a significant event in the history of the relations between the police and the LGBTQ community in Cleveland and in the broader history of relations between police and the communities that they operate in. 

Sidney Negron

Last Updated: 2/8/2022

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United States of America v. City of Cleveland, 1:15-cv-01046-SO.


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