Outreach program to minority groups starts with appointment of top deputy as gay liaison officer
Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez recently launched an outreach program to minorities with the appointment of a liaison officer to the LGBT community.
Jesse Flores, executive chief deputy, will serve as the liaison officer to the gay community. Valdez said that she plans to appoint officers to serve as liaisons to ethnic minorities, such as Hispanics and African Americans, within the next month.
“We want to make sure that we deal with everyone fair and square, no matter where they come from or what they are,” Valdez said in a telephone interview. “We need to deal with them on an equal basis.”
Valdez, who is a lesbian and Hispanic, said she started with the gay community because it coincides with a directive allowing a gay and lesbian sheriff deputies association to meet in department offices. It is a signal of official acceptance, she said.
“I think it is clear if they are allowed to have meetings on the premises that there is a welcoming,” she said.
Valdez said the Flores’ duties will be similar to those of Laura Martin, the Dallas Police Department’s liaison officer to the LGBT community. Martin, a lesbian, makes appearances at social and business meetings and works with individuals to resolve concerns about crime and complaints.
Valdez said she chose Flores, who is second in command to the sheriff, because he served as the liaison officer to Waco’s LGBT community when he was an officer for that city’s police department.
“I picked the person I felt would be good and comfortable,” Valdez said. “He’s not only my number two guy, he’s also very genuine with people. Even though he is a straight, married man, both he and his wife have a good connection with the gay community.”
Flores, who worked for the Waco Police Department for three decades before he went to work for Valdez in November 2005, said he has gay relatives and served as the liaison officer to the gay community for 15 years in Waco.
“I don’t believe in people getting harassed by no one verbally or physically and so I was more than glad to do that,” Flores said. “My wife and I became good friends with two of the gay leaders.”
Flores said he believes his involvement in Waco helped change public perception of the gay community to increase acceptance of it. It was a significant accomplishment because of Waco’s conservative religious culture, he said.
“If we have the bigots, they don’t show their faces the way they used to,” Flores said.
Flores said the decision to begin the outreach program to minorities started with his appointment to assist the gay community because it represented the greatest need.
“They are very much vulnerable to harassment and physical harm and we want them to have a direct line to the department,” said Flores, who noted that ethnic minorities enjoy greater representation in county government than the gay community does.
“I think you are the priority because you don’t have representation,” Flores said.
Flores said county jail officials already attempt to protect gay inmates by housing them in a special area if they are agreeable to the segregation.
“We don’t make them,” Flores said. “We ask them.”
Flores said he plans to meet with LGBT groups in the city and to attend their functions. The plan for reaching out to the gay community is still under development, he said.
Valdez said the idea for establishing the outreach to the gay community and ethnic minorities has been on her mind for some time.
“There were a lot of things that took priority before it,” Valdez said.
“You go to the bleeding wound, and you take care of that. Then you start looking at everything else.”
Valdez said she expects to come under fire for her decision to launch the program with a liaison to the gay community.
“I’m sure I’m going to get some flack about doing it, but this is a beginning,” Valdez.
Valdez said she plans to develop a written policy on anti-discrimination that addresses sexual orientation and gender identity. Diversity training for sheriff’s department employees now mentions LGBT individuals, but it is not part of the written instruction, she said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, August 25, 2006.