With rise in transgender homicides, MPD LGBTQ+ Liaison helping evaluate policies
By Shaun Gallagher,2023-06-09
City leaders in the police department are doing more to improve equality. Since 2019, the Milwaukee Police Department has had community liaisons specifically focused on the LGBTIQ+ community.
“I feel a huge responsibility,” Sgt. Guadalupe Velasquez said. “Whether working with elected officials or command staff, when we get questions about policies and procedures, bringing that feedback to the command staff, we need to update Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) or policies or create guidelines to make sure we’re policing the most effectively.”
Velasquez came out when she arrived at Marquette University as a freshman. She says, the freedom of being on her own, allowed her to feel comfortable living as her true self.
“Growing up in a Mexican household, coming out as a member of the LGBTQ community is very scary,” she said.
But thanks to mentors and leaders within the police department, they encouraged her to pursue leadership-level roles.
“Visibility goes a long way,” Velasquez said. “Whether it’s the LGBTQ community as part of recruiting, saying hey you can do this too. It’s the same as being a woman on this job. The more people see people like them in these positions, the more willing they are to do these jobs.”
And it’s as important as ever. As one of two LGBTQ+ Liaisons in the department, Velasquez is an integral part of ensuring the policies and procedures in place are reflective of issues facing the LGBTQ community.
Crimes against the transgender community have been on the rise. Since 2017, transgender people are facing increased rates of homicide across the country. After three years of murders below 30 nationwide, the pandemic saw a spike in transgender murders with 44 in 2020, 59 in 2021 and 38 in 2022, according to statistics provided by Everytown.org . As of April 27, eleven transgender people have been killed.
Three of those numbers represent women here in Milwaukee; Cashay Henderson , Brazil Johnson and Regina “Mya” Allen . It’s the first time in nearly 10 years that a Black transgender person has been killed, according to Elle Halo.
“There has been a lot of progress made as well as a lot of tragedy,” Halo said.
Halo is one of Milwaukee’s leaders in transgender health and empowerment through her work at Diverse & Resilient group Sisters Helping Each Other Battle Adversity (SHEBA) . One of the many concerns she has had in the last year is about how MPD misgendered these victims, releasing publicly the sex these women were assigned at birth.
“It’s a subliminal message to us, as trans women and to us as LGBTQ people that we’re not valued,” Halo said. “It sends a message that we can’t trust them. That they don’t value us for our lives or contributions. There is no reason for them to be misgendered or deadnamed, period. They weren’t unidentified people killed on the street.”
“We're going to fall back to our policies and procedures,” Velasquez said. “Once we received feedback, ‘Hey, this is the way you were doing it but may not be the best way, as long as we're making improvements when they come to us, that will send a message to the community that yes, we understand this is not the right way to maybe possibly do this right now and we'll continue to work to improve those the way our guidelines are.”
Halo feels not enough investigative work is being done to appropriately gender victims like the three Milwaukee women killed since last year.
“One would assume that if someone was killed in their home, that one would be able to deduce what their identity is,” Halo said. “A piece of mail, an ID, a driver’s license, whatever it is. That includes actual items in their home. Maybe someone does have a more masculine name or a name that doesn’t necessarily fit them. But if the whole house looks like it’s a woman’s home, I think that would lead [police] to discover the person’s identity and how they would want people to identify them.”
Velasquez says efforts are being discussed around MPD’s policies and procedures to make the changes to respect the lives of women like Henderson, Johnson and Allen. It’s prospective change like this that Velasquez says shows progress in the department.
“We are able to pass that info on to command staff, we get feedback,” Velasquez said. “The fact we go back and forth with each other and those conversations don't end immediately, it shows we're making improvements and advancements on these types of topics.”
“I think that when we talk about progress that two things can be true,” Halo said. “That we are making progress and that progress will never happen fast enough. The police in our law enforcement and our policymakers work for us. That’s coming from a Black trans woman. That’s coming from someone who generationally has not had access to power or to a platform like this. If people feel that our progress is not being made, then it’s time to replace them.”
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