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We’ve come a long way, and we still have a way to go.

That was the message that came out of a community forum with local law enforcement officers at Island City Stage in Wilton Manors. The event was an opportunity to examine the often-dark history of interactions between the LGBT community and law enforcement.

Wilton Manors Police Department was represented by Assistant Chief of Police Darren Brodsky, Captain Michael Dodson spoke for Fort Lauderdale PD, and the Broward Sheriff Office (BSO) was represented by Lt. Paul Auerbach.

Each discussed their respective department’s work building better relations with the LGBT community in Broward County. “There are two different aspects,” Capt. Dodson said. “There’s within the department, what it’s like to be a [LGBT] police person. That has improved. There are policies in place to be sure you can’t be discriminated against. Then there’s the way we deal with the community. We want to reflect this community and we think we do.”

Local trans activist Kat Rios sat on the panel, and shared a story of being physically attacked at work by her supervisor and feeling her trans status contributed to the man not being arrested. She was later told that, because there was no “imminent danger,” the attacker wasn’t taken into custody but did have to go to court. Capt. Dodson said he looked into the case and said it was handled appropriately.

Much was made of the “Broward Bubble” we live in, a community with a large and visible LGBT population, and how that can make progress easier. However, at the end of the day most officers are heterosexual and LGBT people are “the different ones.”

Each of the officers answered how their departments work to avoid bias during incidents involving the community. Fort Lauderdale PD does bias-based police training for all officers. While relations are improving, the panel acknowledged it’s impossible to root out all bias in officers. “We try to recruit and train officers and provide them with an opportunity to learn,” Brodsky said. “But there are outliers and officers that are out there, unfortunately, they may nod their head but they’re not gonna buy into it.”

Lt. Auerbach said being in a “bubble” gives local law enforcement an advantage to make change beyond the Broward County border. “Our progressive policies, in our bubble, we have officers in the midwest [who reach out] and say they want to make changes in their department. So we are that stepping stone for them.”

The event coincides with Island City Theater’s 10th anniversary and their presentation of The Twentieth Century Way. The play is set in 1914, and looks at a sting operation to target and out gays in Long Beach, California.

Florida Atlantic University Professor Emeritus Fred Fejes, Ph.D., gave a brief history of South Florida law enforcement and LGBT relations from the 1950s through the ‘80s. That period included “monitoring” people, collecting their addresses, and outing them to families.

The Twentieth Century Way was the first play ever presented by Island City Stage, and the revival runs throughout October.

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