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No more LGBT liaison at the Sheriff’s office

So according to the Houston Press, it would seem our new Sheriff is not exactly comfortable with gay people. First, he told to his surprise at a Republican club meeting that the HCSO website has a small rainbow flag tucked into a corner:

Ron Hickman

Needless to say, that rainbow flag is now gone. What’s more worrisome to LGBT advocates is that Hickman has also axed the LGBT liaison program entirely.

Here’s the explanation Ryan Sullivan, the new HCSO spokesman, gave us this week:

“The LGBT liaison program didn’t have the capacity which you would expect by looking at the website. …Those requests were kind of administered ad hoc. Should a request come in, it would be processed around through the department until it could be fulfilled. We already have systems and structures in place through our community services division to take care of those things directly.”

That the department’s LGBT liaison program was somewhat loosely organized and that requests for an LGBT-friendly officer were handled on an “ad hoc” basis, as Sullivan puts it, is technically true. Lou Weaver, a local LGBT activist and consultant, says she worked closely with Garcia’s office in helping craft policies dealing with everything from discrimination to hate crime allegations to how the sheriff handled gay and transgender inmates in lockup at the county jail.

According to Weaver and others who are familiar with how the LGBT liaison program was set up, Garcia identified officers and employees within the agency who could act as points of contact whenever something LGBT-related came up. Many of those employees went through hours of training in how to better serve the LGBT community, particularly jailers tasked with implementing Garcia’s rather groundbreaking policy directive to classify and house inmates based on gender identity and expression rather than biological sex — a policy that Hickman’s office says will continue.

Weaver and others were already troubled that Maj. Debra Schmidt, a 29-year veteran of the department who helped implement protections for LGBT inmates and employees at the sheriff’s office, was among Garcia’s top commanders who were demoted once Hickman took over. Axing the LGBT liaison program in the name of “productivity” is equally worrying, Weaver says.

“It’s important that we have a point of contact for people to feel safe going into the jail, contacting the jail if something happens, someone to air our concerns if we feel we’re not being treated fairly,” Weaver told the Press. “Unfortunately, it looks like the current sheriff does not take those concerns seriously.”

Garcia made waves last year when he and several deputies marched in the Houston Pride parade; it was the first time HCSO ever made an official appearance. Not surprisingly, Hicmkan’s office says he has no such plans for the Pride parade later this month – although, as Hickman’s spokesman Sullivan put it, “the sheriff encourages any employees who wish to participate, he encourages them to do so as individuals.”

I think now we all understand the complaints about his un-diverse staff a little better now. Politically speaking, this sounds like the action of someone who fears his primary more than he fears November; I’m not so sure I agree with that calculation. And yes, as some people have observed, Sheriff Hickman’s actions do Adrian Garcia’s Mayoral campaign no favors. Beyond the politics, though, this is just bad policy that will almost certainly mean worse treatment for a non-trivial number of people. Everyone has the same rights, but not everyone has the same needs. It makes no sense to disengage from and refuse to communicate with a significant portion of the population.

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3 Comments

  1. Katy Anders says:

    I think you’re right. Even the faintest hint of being tolerant of sinners could set off a Republican primary challenge.

    Never forget what happened a few cycles back when the Republican challenger to Democratic Justice of the Peace Patronella turned out to be gay: The GOP sank their own candidate by telling everyone to vote for the Dem. In a strange variation of Better Dead Than Red, we have Better Anything Than Gay-Friendly.

    Which isn’t nearly as catchy, now that I see it typed out…

  2. luke taylor says:

    Houston is so back woods. Every major US city has a liaison to the gay community or at least has community meetings with the gay community. Why is Houston so behind the times – ALWAYS?

  3. Dude. Harris County != Houston. This has nothing to do with the city of Houston.