VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — As Hampton Roads Pride celebrates its 30th year of Pride Fest, organizers are working to build bridges in the community that will last well beyond the celebration.
The week long event will conclude with a festival at Town Point Park on June 30, where the organization and LGBT liaison officers hope to recruit for law enforcement departments.
Michael Berlucchi, a former president of Hampton Roads Pride, says they’re working to strengthen relationships between their communities because it hasn’t always been a smooth road.
Historically, LGBT people are disproportionally impacted by acts of violence, according to Berlucchi.
He says they want strong relationships because many other global communities don’t work with law enforcement officers.
That’s not the case here in Hampton Roads.
“We’re seeing our community cheer police and firefighters and EMS providers because they know the professionals are dedicated to their safety and their well being,” he said.
Law enforcement agencies want to continue relationship by having a more diverse police department, including officers who are LGBT.
“We want people who are interested, people who are talented, people who want to be police officers,” said Virginia Beach Police Sgt. Michele Meister.
Meister oversees the Special Victims Unit. She’s also been the department’s LGBT liaison officer for two years.
She says the response to the position has been overwhelming and did not realize how many people needed the resources they provided.
“The first year we started the program, I felt like I was drinking from a fire hose,” she said.
Meister says most of her job involves going out into the community dispelling misconceptions and stereotypes to community groups, schools and anyone who wants more information.
She’s one of many liaison officers that make up the regional LGBT Public Safety Consortium.
It started in 2015 and now includes seven officers, from all the Hampton Roads cities, two sheriff’s offices, and the FBI.
Friday afternoon, the Hampton Roads Regional Jail announced it is also adding two LGBT liaison positions which will be part of the consortium.
“It promotes safety in our cities and that’s very important,” Berlucchi said.
Berlucchi says it’s their goal to continue expanding to other public safety offices and making the LGBT community feel welcomed to apply for those jobs.
“We really want to emphasize is for everyone to fulfill their full potential as human beings and we want anyone who is interested in any field to be welcomed and embraced and contribute to their communities and serve their communities,” he said.
And they say that starts by recruiting and having employees who are LGBT to knock down barriers that have existed in the past.
“When I started in law enforcement in the 90s, you weren’t “out” as you call it. You didn’t hold hands. You didn’t say my wife is at home as a law enforcement officer,” said Fawn Faulks, the current president of Hampton Roads Pride.
Faulks worked for a number of years at the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office.
She says now many are free to be themselves at work, and having the liaison officers positions helps that.
“The position itself has not only been beneficial to the community but gives voices to those in the department who didn’t feel comfortable voicing those before,” Meister said.
And that helps officers do their job and keep the community they reflect safe.
If you’re interested in working in law enforcement, the LGBT liaison officers will be out at PrideFest on Saturday, June 30 recruiting.
It’s from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Town Point Park in Norfolk.