Law enforcement and the LGBTQ+ community have a history of tumultuous relationships, but things are changing for the better. In Santa Barbara, the Voices program brings together officers and the LGBTQ+ community in restorative and informative dialogue.
History of relationship between gays and police
The 1960’s were a terrifying time for the LGBTQ+ community. The medical industry diagnosed homosexuality as a mental illness and less than a two-hour drive from Santa Barbara, Atascadero State Hospital administered tortured conversion therapy. The gay community was afraid of the police. And there was good reason. Police enforced anti-gay laws, regularly raided gay serving establishments, and gay communities often resorted to self-policing because they knew the police would not protect them. In fact, the modern Gay Pride movement first began as a result of police abuse.
On June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in New York, police initiated, yet another raid. But this time, patrons resisted and revolted for four nights. The next year, the first Pride March commemorated the LGBTQ+ activists who fought against an oppressive and abuse at the hands of police. The Stonewall uprising marked a major turning point in the modern gay civil rights movement in the United States and around the world.
50 years later Pacific Pride Foundation hosted five officers from the Santa Barbara Police Department and five members of the LGBTQ+ community in a restorative and educational dialogue.
Community Oriented Policing
When Chief Lori Luhnow joined the SBPD, she brought with her a new level of Community Oriented Policing, a philosophy and strategy of policing that focuses on building relationships and working closely in proactive partnership with members of the communities.
Shortly thereafter, Lieutenants Shawn Hill and Charlie Katsapas worked with community members to develop the Voices program, as a way to strengthen relationships with vulnerable communities and understand their perspectives and experiences, and for the community to hear the perspective and experiences from the officers.
Voices is an innovative and research informed workshop bringing together police officers and community groups who have felt historically targeted by law enforcement to engage in meaningful dialogue with the purpose of healing and strengthening relationships. Many of the participating community members have experienced or witnessed negative interactions with law enforcement and the participating police officers are new to the department recently graduating from the police academy. After more than seven dialogue sessions with incarcerated youth, formerly incarcerated adults, the undocumented Spanish speaking community members, community activists, and the LGBTQ+ community, the Voices program has improved relationships and provided an increased sense of safety and wellbeing in the Santa Barbara community.
This June celebrates 50 years of Pride and the commemoration of the Stonewall uprising. Times have changed and so has policing. Through Community Oriented Policing, specialized
trainings, restorative dialogue, skillful and respectful responses to hate crimes, and hiring officers that reflect the community it services, the relationship between police and Santa Barbara’s LGBTQ+ communities have begun to shift from fear to partnership.
About Pacific Pride Foundation
Santa Barbara’s Pacific Pride Foundation (PPF) advocacy and education efforts meet the ongoing and emerging needs of a diverse population in order to create a thriving and visible LGBTQ+ community. With offices in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria PPF is a strong, respected leader providing high quality, compassionate health and social service program not available through any other organization in the country. https://pacificpridefoundation.org
About the Restorative Community Network
The Restorative Community Network (RCN) is a coalition of individuals and organizations committed to working together to address the complex social issues contributing to community harm. The purpose of the RCN is to advocate for the use of Restorative Practices and collaborative partnerships. www.RCNsb.org