A historic first

Lansing Police and Fire Depts. to march in Michigan Pride parade

By Todd Heywood

LANSING- For the first time in Michigan LGBT history, members of a local law enforcement department will participate in a gay pride march and parade while dressed in full uniform.

Lansing Police Department officers and commanders - both gay and straight - will use Lansing police vehicles and wear their LPD uniforms to march in Saturday's Michigan Pride March. The Lansing Fire Department has also confirmed it will have a fire engine and fire fighting staff in the parade as well.

Penny Gardner, president of the Lansing Association for Human Rights, praised the move.

"It informs us that things are changing and that if we come into contact with the law, we will be treated fairly and with justice," she said. "I think that we have grown up with and we live with the idea that perhaps we are not safe in the hands of the law enforcement department, or the police department in the past."

Gardner said the move shows how relationships with local policy agencies are so important. She said LAHR has been around for more than 30 years, and during that time it has actively cultivated relationships with police. Last June, Lansing Police announced they were appointing a liaison to the LGBT community as part of the department's focus on community policing.

Det. Michelle Bryant of the department was appointed to the position. Bryant is an out lesbian on the Lansing police force. She also will march Saturday.

"It means a lot to me to have a number of my co-workers participate with me in this parade. There are very few 'out' people at our department. It's kind of ironic and funny that we will have more straight people in the pride parade than gay. It's always good to have allies! I am proud that my co-workers have respect for me and are willing to support me and the LGBT community," Bryant said. "I have to give a lot of credit to Capt. Ray Hall. He has gone out on a limb to support this effort. He is a progressive thinker. His influence and support is what has enabled the LPD to progress to where we are today. Without his support, the LPD would not have created a liaison officer position. He was able to sell the idea to the chief.

"This isn't just a symbolic development, although symbols are important," said David Holtz, executive director of Progress Michigan. "This involves an important civic event - a community gathering - that will now truly be about all of the community."

For R. Cole Bouck, an administrative assistant in the Michigan Department of Corrections administrative offices and president of the year-old Michigan Gay Officers Action League, the move is groundbreaking.

"Seeing these Departments in the parade says two things: The Departments recognize LGBT persons as full citizens in the community, and want them to know that LGBT persons can count on the departments to serve them well; and that you can be LGBT and work in these professions - you are not excluded from serving as an officer just for being LGBT. And you can be open about it!" Bouck wrote in an email. "It also sends the very important message about the importance of allies; because they are so many, and they are so important, and we couldn't do this without them."

Bouck came to Lansing in 1982, and while working in the prisons in the 1990s was outed. That experience, he said, was "hell" but made him promise that the treatment he experienced would never be experienced again by MDOC staff.

"I want the message to get out to the Greater Lansing Community. We are everywhere!" Bryant said. "It is not our sexual orientation that should define us. That is only a small part of who we are. There are LGBT lawyers, judges, reporters, restaurant workers, bankers, etc. We are ordinary people. I put my pants on one leg at a time just like the next person. I am a police officer and I happen to be a lesbian. I support the Greater Lansing Community and I would ask for their support in return. As a police officer, or a firefighter, we serve the public. It doesn't matter if you are gay, straight, or in between. I understand that historically, the LGBT community hasn't always felt that they were protected by the police. I hope that by participating in the parade, we are showing our support to the LGBT community. I hope that helps to create a more open, trusting relationship."

Captain Ray Hall of the Lansing Police Department said the participation by his department was important.

"The message is that the LGBT community has our support and we will not allow anyone to harass or intimidate anyone because of the relationship they are in.

"We're hopefully sending the message that we are everybody's police department - including the LGBT community."

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