The reconstituted LGBT advisory panel of the Atlanta Police Department met for the first time Monday, spending 90 minutes sifting through organizational tasks and hearing from a handful of concerned gay residents.
The newest incarnation of the panel, which has been used in past police administrations to varying levels of success, is the latest response from the police department to better its relations with gay residents since it raided the Eagle in September 2009. The issues that surfaced during Monday’s meeting at Saint Mark United Methodist Church, whether from the panel’s nine members or from the audience of 15 people, didn’t break new ground: the Eagle raid, the status of LGBT liaison Officer Dani Lee Harris, and three recent murders.
“We can certainly make our voice very loud and very clear as to good things and improper and bad things,” says Glen Paul Freedman, a longtime LGBT activist who was elected chair of the board during Monday’s meeting.
Atlanta police moved to create the panel after the idea surfaced in May during a public meeting with LGBT activists, non-profit leaders and the media to introduce the agency’s latest LGBT liaison, Officer Patricia Powell (second photo, left). Since then, the agency has faced a formal complaint from Harris and placed her on leave, a call for sanctions against some officers involved in the Eagle raid, an internal investigation into the raid that has lasted nearly a year, a federal lawsuit over the action, and continued questions over how it uses its LGBT liaisons.
Last month, Mayor Kasim Reed and police Chief George Turner announced the nine members of the panel. The members, culled from dozens of applications received since Atlanta police asked for nominations in July, include a cross-section of business owners, community activists, non-profit leaders and a member of the clergy.
On Monday, the board spent the bulk of its inaugural session getting organized, electing its leaders – Freedman as chair; Terence McPhaul, executive director of YouthPride, as vice chair; HRC Atlanta dinner co-chair Ebonee Bradford-Barnes as secretary – articulating their vision for the panel and establishing task forces to study its bylaws and objectives.
“We need to have clarity and transparency from the APD,” says Betty Couvertier, a longtime activist and radio host who serves on the board. “We need to catch up on details on the different things that are going on and have gone on. Without information we can’t give advice. We have to be clear on what exactly we are expected to do from APD’s perspective and also from the community’s perspective.”
But despite the focus on organizational matters, several people urged the panel to aggressively focus on a handful of concerns, from alleged police mistreatment of LGBT citizens to encouraging more Atlanta police officers to come out as gay.
“There’s been incredible homophobia in the police department for years,” says Winston Johnson (third photo), who recounted a moving story about a Peachtree Street bar that police raided in 1978 arresting his partner and 13 others. “It’s the most devastating thing I’ve ever been through. That’s why we need more LGBT people on the police department. When I heard about the Eagle raid I thought, “God dammit, this can’t be happening 32 years later.”
Deepali Gokhale (fourth photo), an organizer of Building Locally to Organize for Community Safety, urged the board to examine the police department’s Red Dog Unit. The paramilitary unit came under scrutiny for its role in the Eagle raid.
“The Red Dog Unit has a history of being problematic with all communities it interacts with,” Gokhale says. “Why has this particular unit been so abusive?”
Dan Grossman, an attorney who is helping Eagle patrons ensnared in the raid sue the city and police, says the panel should ask tough questions of police commanders.
“You as a board have a clear First Amendment right to talk about anything you like,” Grossman says. “You have a tremendous amount of moral authority. If the police department refuses to answer, let them be embarrassed. Will you actually demand the transparency you talk about?”
The board decided to meet monthly on the third Monday and scheduled its next meeting for Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. at the Phillip Rush Center on DeKalb Avenue. The meetings are open to the public.
Members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered Advisory Board
Ebonee Bradford Barnes. Business owner and grassroots GLBT activist. Founder of Sunshine Productions, an events coordinating and fundraising company. She is vice president of In The Life Atlanta and a member of the Board of Governors of Diversity and Inclusion for the Human Rights Campaign.
Betty Couvertier. Activist/Community Organizer and Producer of WRFG Radio’s “Alternative Perspectives,” a program about the GLBT community and its allies. Couvertier has been involved in a number of organizations over the years, including the Human Rights Campaign, Georgians Against Discrimination and the Atlanta Pride Committee.
Tracy L. Elliott. Executive Director of AID Atlanta since April, 2007. Elliot is currently on the board of the Southern AIDS Coalition and the Harvard Club of Georgia, and he is a graduate of the Leadership Atlanta Class of 2009. Elliot has also served as a bank vice president and division head for 13 years.
Glen Paul Freedman. Executive Assistant to the Honorable Lisa M. Borders, President of the Grady Health Foundation. Freedman currently serves on the board of directors and has served as the past president of the Atlanta Gay/Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and the Atlanta Pride Committee.
Tracee McDaniel. Transgender advocate, founder and executive director of the Juxtaposed Center for Transformation, Inc. McDaniel is a certified peer counselor and certified HIV/AIDS Risk/Reduction Prevention Pre & Post-test Counselor. She has been involved in a variety of organizations, including serving on the Atlanta Pride Committee board of directors, the Human Rights Campaign Diversity Committee and the board of directors for Someone Cares, Inc.
Terence McPhaul. Executive Director and CEO of Youth Pride. McPhaul has a host of knowledge and certification in HIV/AIDS, substance abuse and mental health counseling. He has also been an adjunct professor in the psychology and organizational management and leadership departments at Morris Brown, Spelman and Clark Atlanta universities.
Joshua M. Noblitt. Minister of Social Justice at Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Midtown. Noblitt also serves as a mitigation specialist at the Federal Defender Program, Inc. for the Northern District of Georgia. He has also served on various boards and organizational leadership teams, including the board of directors for the Reconciling Ministry Network, an organization dedicated to full inclusion for GLBT people in the United Methodist Church both in policy and practice. Noblitt was attacked in Piedmont Park in July.
Philip Rafshoon. Founder, owner and operator of Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse since 1993. Rafshoon is involved in a broad range of community and political organizations. He has received numerous awards over the years including the Human Rights Campaign Community Leadership award and two Atlanta Phoenix awards. Rafshoon served as a corporate co-chair of the 2004 AIDS Walk Atlanta and received the Community Service Award from AID Atlanta in the same year.
Molly Simmons. Emory School of Law graduate and Assistant Vice-President of Legal Services and Ethics, Privacy & Compliance Officer for Chamberlin Edmonds, an Atlanta-based company providing patient advocacy-based eligibility and enrollment services for its clients. Simmons is also a former DeKalb County Police patrol officer who won Officer of the Month in February 2000.