The group started off with a pronoun exercise — using “she, her, hers” or “he, him, his” to identify themselves — and then moved onto a language matching game as they munched on sandwiches.
The first-ever “Lunch & Learn,” hosted by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, grouped members of the law enforcement and LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) communities, two factions that continue to work on strengthening mutual trust, understanding and support.
And language plays a critical part in such bridge-building, speakers emphasized at the April 12 event, held at the OCSD’s Regional Training Academy in Tustin.
“On both sides, there’s still learning going on,” said Irvine PD Commander Mike Hallinan, whose agency, along with the OCSD and Huntington Beach and Santa Ana PDs, began reaching out to leaders of the LGBTQ community some three years ago following some negative experiences with law enforcement.
For example, participants at the “Lunch & Learn” event were told, the phrase undergoing a sex change should be avoided.
The preferred term?
Transitioning, referring to a complex process that occurs over a long period of time.
And transvestite is considered pejorative.
The preferred term?
The LBGTQ Policing Partnership event was led by Laura Kanter, director of Policy, Advocacy and Youth Programs at the LGBT Center OC, which advocates on behalf of the Orange County Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer/Questioning communities.
The luncheon also included remarks by Undersheriff Don Barnes, OCSD Academy Commander Lt. Cory Martino, Hallinan and Laguna Beach PD Lt. Joe Torres.
Prior to the event, Barnes said the OCSD plans to host several more “Lunch & Learn” sessions.
“I think the most significant part of what we’re doing today is a furtherance of the relationship we’ve built with the LGBTQ community, the policing partnership that has been going on for many years,” Barnes said.
“This is a manifestation of many meetings we’ve had,” Barnes added. “It was an outreach effort from both sides to kind of meet in the middle and build a bridge…I think there’s a perception that law enforcement is kind of an outside element and we don’t want to let everyone in, but we do. Laura has been phenomenal, and we think this is a first big step.”
The OCSD has made it a priority to combat hate, bigotry and misunderstanding in Orange County and thus better serve the community.
Five years ago, the OCSD launched a Diversity Advisory Council.
And in 2015, the OCSD was instrumental in forming the Interfaith Council, a collaboration between the Rev. Mark Whitlock of Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine and the OC Human Relations Commission.
Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and Barnes are the only law enforcement officials to sit on the Interfaith Council, which aims to foster religious and ethnic tolerance.
The recent “Lunch & Learn” with members of the LGBTQ community is an extension of such efforts, Barnes said.
“We’ve built this bond,” Barnes said of the law enforcement and LGBTQ communities. “We all want the same things. We all want to see respect within the community, and we want to know that we can call law enforcement and be treated with dignity.”
Among the 40 or so attendees at the luncheon was Det. Joy Butterfield of the Laguna Beach PD.
Butterfield investigates crimes against juveniles.
“For the first (meeting), I think it was very well attended,” Butterfield said. “I think it’s a great start.”
In addition to leading the pronoun exercise and language matching game, Kanter gave a brief overview of the LGBTQ movement.
She displayed several placards that traced the movement back to the 1960s, when frequenters of the Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco demonstrated against police following a crackdown on transgender customers. The demonstration turned into a riot.
One placard detailed the first Gay Pride Parade in New York City, in 1969.
Other milestones in the LGBTQ movement include the opening of the LGBT Center OC in Santa Ana in 1971, making it one of the oldest centers of its kind in the United States; the 1973 election of Harvey Milk to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, making him the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California; and the deadly Pulse shooting in 2016, when a gunman killed 49 and wounded 58 at the gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
“Bad things don’t happen when we talk about difficult topics,” Peg Corley, executive director of LGBT Center OC, said in brief remarks. “Bad things happen when we don’t talk.”
Barnes told participants he relishes such events as the “Lunch & Learn” session.
“I love these opportunities to share what we do and build bridges with the community,” the undersheriff said. “You will find we are 99.97 alike — we all want the same things. We all want to be safe in our community, we want to be respected, we want to be heard on issues, and we want to have relationships that we can develop to make the community safer.”
Hallinan said he felt the luncheon was a success.
“We’re always looking for new ways to engage with the community and establish trust,” he said. “Trust is the big thing.”
Hallinan said a lot of officers and deputies in Orange County are part of the LGBTQ community. He also noted that most law enforcement agencies in Orange County already have “discriminatory harassment” policies they follow that commands them to treat everyone equally and with respect, and to be accepting and inclusive of everyone.
Martino noted that all OCSD recruits take a 12-hour block on cultural diversity and inclusion — topics all O.C. law enforcement agencies can benefit from diving deeper into, according to Butterfield and others.
“All officers in Laguna Beach are very familiar with community-oriented policing,” the Laguna Beach detective said, “and I think events like this provide a great opportunity for law enforcement agencies to build bridges and work closer together with various members of their communities.”