Next a man from Virginia calls to report that his ex-partner is threatening him. "Well, the good news is we can build a case for stalking and harassment," Parson says. "The bad news is we can't do it in Virginia because they don't recognize your relationship."
Recognizing gay relationships is what officers in the gay unit do; they know the difference between sex and sexuality. Ninety percent of their cases involve men, but the majority don't involve sex.
D.C. police Sgt. Brett Parson chuckles at the response from a driver he has stopped on a traffic violation.
(Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)
A Different Mission to Serve: Sgt. Brett Parson commands D.C.'s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, the only unit of its kind in the country to offer community outreach services and to perform traditional police work.
A Squad's Complicated Beat
Transcript: Chris Crain, executive editor of the Washington Blade, answered your questions about the D.C. police Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.
The calls are more like the businessman who pages Parson and asks to meet at the squad office later that night. The man, an Air Force veteran in creased pants, arrives at 9 p.m., looking thin and stressed as he carries a legal folder full of bank statements. He suspects that his domestic partner of seven years has embezzled more than $80,000 from his business.
"I haven't seen him in a month," the man says.
"Think it has anything to do with 80 grand being missing?" Parson asks, sitting at his desk, scribbling notes. "Okay, what color are his eyes?"
The man pauses. "I don't know."
"Come on," Parson says, putting down his pen. "You stared into his [expletive] eyes for seven years!"
The man smiles and starts to relax. He opens his folder and goes over financial details. His partner worked in his business, but they had no legal arrangement. "We were just together," the man says. He tells Parson he has a contract to provide lunches for schoolchildren, and now with the money missing, he's juggling bank accounts to buy the food. His voice breaks.
"I gave my word I would feed these kids," he says.
Parson softens. "I know you know a lot of people in the community. The question is whether your pride will allow you to reach out. I know you have strong religious beliefs. Maybe it's time to check in. You can't go through this alone, buddy."
The man wipes his face. He looks away. "It's hard because I still care for him."
Parson says he'll consult a detective in the financial crimes unit. He stands. "You okay?"
The man gathers his things. "Yeah."
"Liar," Parson says. "Love sucks."
Parson handpicked the officers who serve on the unit, each for their distinctive talents. Morquecho, 39, is a solid and experienced investigator. Juanita Foreman, 37, patrols nightlife, sometimes hitting 15 bars on a Saturday night, from the strip clubs to the country and western bar where men in cowboy hats glide one another across the waxed dance floor. Hakir is the exuberant rookie with an anthropologist's curiosity. What's missing from the unit is a gay, black male officer. For two years, Parson has tried to recruit candidates from the ranks, but none has been willing to join, he says, a symptom of the tougher cultural penalties faced by black gay men.
Hakir tries to fill the void. One night she crosses the Sousa Bridge into Southeast to drop by a weekly support group for gay and bisexual black men who are HIV-positive. The group, Us Helping Us, meets in a small house in the industrial Barracks Row area near the Navy Yard. Hakir knocks and is asked to wait in the foyer. Several minutes pass, and she can hear a discussion in the next room.
"D.C. has a lot of down-low brothers," she says. "It's shameful for them to see me. I almost feel bad for going."
Finally, a door opens and Hakir is invited into a room where more than a dozen men sit in a circle. She introduces herself as an officer of the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit and explains the squad's mission.
"Do they have anything like this in Maryland?" a man asks.
"I could have used this 10 years ago," another says.