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The Stewards of Gay Washington

"Hmm," Parson says.

"A lot of sculpture."

"Classy, nice furniture. Classy, spick-and-span clean."

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
_____Live Discussion_____
Transcript: Chris Crain, executive editor of the Washington Blade, answered your questions about the D.C. police Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.

Parson tosses some catalogues on a desk. Pottery Barn. Restoration Hardware. "What about magazines?" he asks, throwing down a copy of the Advocate. "Now, I know last year the U.S. attorney's office came in to talk about hate crimes and said, 'Never ask if someone is gay.' "

He pauses. "Well, that's [expletive]. There's a way to ask -- you just don't have to hit them over the head with it. Look around. Stereotypes are bad if they are used to hurt people. Stereotypes can be based in truth."

Later, Parson walks into his condo in Adams Morgan, nothing like what he described in class. A hockey stick leans against the door. Twelve pairs of hockey skates are crammed in a closet. The bed is unmade. On the patio, a deflated volleyball and an old bookshelf are like headstones in the weeds. But a trained eye would see, next to American Hockey magazine, the latest issue of Out.

Parson's own personal life occurs in slivers. About midnight Friday, he breaks from patrol and stops in at the Henley Park Hotel bar. The jazz quartet is on a break. He looks for the pianist and sees him at the bar talking with a couple of fans.

"Hey," Parson says.

"Hi," says the pianist, Chris Grasso.

The two fans at the bar are complimenting the jazz. Parson, wearing his uniform, tells a story about the pianist. One of the fans gives a quizzical look. "Are you two related?"

Parson pauses. "Yeah," he says. "We're in a relationship."

"Oh," the man says, faltering only slightly. "Well, I have a cousin who's gay."

"Really," Parson says. He turns to Grasso. "Gotta go, babe."

Parson flies by the monuments at night, the white marble pillars and rotundas appearing in his rearview mirror, but he always returns to Dupont Circle. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the unit's office this month, Chief Ramsey tells the crowd of guests and dignitaries, "This is a great day."

Parson has a bruised eye from getting hit with a puck at a police league hockey game. Hakir greets VIPs like an Embassy Row hostess. Officer Foreman, who played college ball and usually wears her police cap flipped backwards, causes a minor scandal with her gold hoop earrings. "Girl, you are spruced out," Hakir says. Officer Morquecho is relived there's no rainbow flag flying out front, though a Japanese paper spiral lamp is later deemed overly gay.

Then it's back to business. Leads grow cold on the homicide case involving the government employee. The good news is that a victim's advocate has started working with them one afternoon a week, dealing with the bashers and the bashed, the stalked, the closeted and the blackmailed, of which there are no shortage.

One of the bashed is Lemuel Odell. Two years ago, he was walking home from a gay bar in Dupont Circle when someone came up from behind and smashed him in the head with a heavy object. He fell face first onto the pavement, unconscious, and the next thing he remembers is running along S Street with blood everywhere. Parson investigated the assault as a hate crime but could never prove it.

The violence left Odell with memory loss and anxiety, but seeing Parson once a month for dinner makes him feel better. It's a reassuring sight: the stout sergeant bulked out in his bulletproof vest, shoveling food and wearing his smelly Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit ball cap. One night they meet at a Cosi a few blocks from where Odell was attacked.

"The scar is almost gone," Parson says near the end of dinner.

Odell touches the face that received 42 stitches. "Yeah?"

"Yeah." Then the radio crackles, and Parson is out the door.

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