When Lt. Paul Auerbach first joined the Broward Sheriff’s Office 18 years ago, he wouldn’t ask his colleagues what they did over the weekend — he didn’t want them to reciprocate the question.
As a gay man, he was afraid of being outed.
“I made two promises to myself: I’m not going to lie about who I am, but I’m not going to be forthcoming,” he remembers. But he realized that the people he worked alongside and trusted his life with were more than just his coworkers. Today, he jokes that he’s “full-on gay.”
Auerbach is one of about 15 BSO employees who are a part of the LGBTQ+ Liaison Committee, founded a year ago to improve outreach to the community. Members are a part of the community, allies, or affirming parents of LGBT youth who belong to different departments within BSO, including law enforcement, fire rescue, administration, detention, training, community affairs, and more.
Fire Rescue Public Education Manager Courtney Palmer is the chair of the committee alongside Communications Duty Officer James Moser.
“The sheriff, that was one of his major priorities that he asked of our group was to make sure not only were we looking at changes internally … but also reaching out to the community more than just, ‘We’re handing out some beads at a parade,’” Palmer said.
Currently, the committee is working on an intimate partner PSA, as well as training workshops, safe ambulances, and rewriting policies to be more inclusive. The committee wants the LGBT community to understand that they can call BSO if they are in an abusive situation with a partner. Oftentimes, officers will hear from a person saying the abuser is “just their roommate,” for fear of being outed. But unfortunately, the case would just be a simple battery and not move forward.
One of the founding members was the late Deputy Shannon Bennett, who died last year due to COVID-19. He was a school resource officer and was beloved by his students, so outreach to youth was important to him. Another activity BSO members have done was serve as chaperones at the Halloween dance and prom for LGBT kids. The events were in partnership with Sunshine Cathedral and have grown.
“He reached out to several of his kids when he was at Lauderdale Lakes Middle School … some of those kids did come up to him because they identify as part of the community and they were getting bullied,” Auerbach said of Bennett, who he considered one his best friends. “He made a point of reaffirming his existence. He told them to be who they are, to be strong, and the best revenge is to be a success and be true to yourself.”
However, Auerbach said that he noticed some kids were wary that there were cops at the event — he wants them to know they’re there as mentors and to keep them safe. In the future, they hope to present an award in honor of Bennett to one of the kids at each event. They also want the kids to know that they can be in law enforcement if they want to when they grow up.
This summer, the committee is planning a career meet and greet for anyone interested in learning more about working at BSO.
“We want to let the teens know, and area groups, that we are affirming and accepting of the LGBTQ+ community and you can be a part of this community,” Palmer said.
Members of BSO's LGBTQ+ Liaison Committee take a screenshot during a recent meeting. Courtesy of BSO.