The Stewards of Gay Washington
Monday, March 28, 2005
Sgt. Brett Parson rides in his cruiser, groggy and unshaven, gripping a chai latte between his kneecaps. He will crisscross the city several times before the night is over. More sociological than geographical, his beat is gay Washington.
"Cruiser 9670, request assistance," the dispatcher calls.
"Brett, we got one of yours," a patrol officer radios.
Inside a Northwest apartment, a 39-year-old man has been beaten by his male partner. The victim is a lieutenant colonel who works at the Pentagon and can't show up at a military hospital with injuries caused by same-sex domestic violence without risking his career.
At the Giant on 14th Street and Meridian Place NW, a Salvadoran immigrant has run into his long-lost brother, only the brother is now living as a woman. When Parson arrives, he finds the figure in the dress slumped and bloodied, and the other brother is shouting, "He's a maricon ," using a Spanish slur for homosexual. " Dios mio ! My mother is going to kill herself."
The D.C. police department has a Latino Liaison Unit, an Asian Liaison Unit and a Deaf and Hard of Hearing Unit, but unlike the other specialized squads, the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit deals with the half-truths and complexities of sexuality.
When Parson teaches officers at the police academy how to deal with the gay community, he starts with Gay 101. They are blue-collar, white-collar, French collar and no collar. They may withhold the whole truth from you because their lives often are shrouded in necessary fictions. They might be uncomfortable dealing with you because they have been humiliated by you in the past.
But out on the streets, as on this winter night, Parson is miles beyond Gay 101. His squad knows how to deal. The small rainbow flags they wear on their uniforms are their passports inside. Once inside, they must walk a razor's edge, balancing protection and empathy with old-school, lock-'em-up law enforcement.
" 'We are here for you' is part of our message," Parson says. "But so is, 'You are under arrest.' "
Sgt. Brett Parson of the D.C. police Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit stays close to his partner, Chris Grasso, at a service for slain D.C. Cabinet member Wanda R. Alston. An activist in the gay community, Alston was a friend.
Parson examines the face of a woman who was in a fight with her neighbor. A victim's advocate now helps with the bashers and the bashed, the closeted and the blackmailed -- all part and parcel of the beat.
D.C. police Sgt. Brett Parson chuckles at the response from a driver he has stopped on a traffic violation. "What, they don't have red lights in Virginia?" he asks. Unlike most supervising sergeants, he makes arrests, many not involving gays.
Parson takes a look at the address of an apartment after Joveta Johnson asks him whether it would be a safe place to live. Parson, raised in Laurel, grew familiar with the District accompanying his father as he sold iron and steel.
At the service for Wanda R. Alston, Parson is comforted by Chris Grasso. Parson worked nearly round-the-clock for a week after the slaying.
At Alston's funeral at All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, Sgt. Brett Parson is the enforcer, keeping photographers away from family members and from the coffin.
Officer Zunnobia Hakir responds to a call about a domestic dispute between a gay couple. Hakir, 24, is the unit's rookie but possesses an inquisitiveness cherished by Parson. Like the others, she was handpicked for the squad.
Apathy from some of the officers in Parson's weekly police academy class doesn't faze the sergeant. "Gay," Parson shouts in one class. "Say it. Your wrist isn't going to go limp or anything."