Augusta sheriff’s office adds LGBT liaison

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The Richmond County Sheriff's Office put in place a fulltime LGBT liaison, a first for the Augusta agency and a move that is earning it praise from LGBT activists.

And Deputy Zay’Vion Williams, a transgender male, met with LGBT residents and Georgia Equality on Sept. 3 to discuss his new role. Though the sheriff's office has had an LGBT liaison in an informal role, Williams volunteered to take on the position fulltime in early August. 

Via WTVM:

But Deputy Zay'Vion Williams also explained his new responsibility as the liaison for the LGBT community. He says it's an honor to be selected, and that hopefully this will show the LGBT community that the Sheriff's Office is here to serve everyone, and that they shouldn't feel afraid to reach out if they need help. 

“It's pretty much just a way to make sure the community knows that we're here for everybody. LGBT, everybody as a whole,” said Deputy Williams. “We're here to make sure that everybody's safe, and everything is taken care of in accordance.” 

Chanel Haley, Georgia Equality's Transgender Inclusion Organizer, praised the agency for the new position. Haley led the public meeting in Augusta earlier this month.

Via WTVM:

“We are part of the community, and it's important for them to show that we too should be protected,” said  Haley. “Even if nothing bad has happened so far, it's for them to show that they have our back and that they understand that there could be instances, and that we want to be protected.” 

Augusta Pride officials also heaped praised on Williams and the sheriff's office. Lonzo Smith, Pride's vice president, said the move shows that law enforcement takes seriously crimes targeting LGBT residents. 

Via the Augusta Chronicle:

“One of the easiest things that we came up with was looking at having a liaison within the sheriff’s department,” he said. “Augusta is a diverse city. We want people looking at our city to realize that we value all people.”

Williams tells the Chronicle that LGBT resident may be more comfortable talking to him instead of other deputies at the agency.

“I’ve seen certain issues where someone will feel like they just don’t have someone on law enforcement’s side that they can speak to,” Williams said, adding that he hopes the community will put its faith in the sheriff’s office knowing it will be heard.

The move comes as an LGBT church in Augusta faces anti-gay vandals. The sheriff's office LGBT liaison was involved as investigators probed two attacks on the Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer. Williams took the LGBT liaison position fulltime as the church was struck a second time in late July. Earlier that month, vandals also damaged a flagpole at the church and ripped off a gay Pride flag that was put on display in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage in Georgia.

A sheriff's office commander says the liaison will help the agency “get into true investigations and resolve issues” with LGBT victims, according to the Chronicle. It's also another first for the area: Last year, the first free LGBT clinic in the state – Equality Clinic – opened at Georgia Regents University in Augusta.

And the LGBT liaison will certainly help the county's dismal score on HRC's Municipal Equality Index. Augusta-Richmond scored a 10 last year, the lowest among eight municipalities ranked in Georgia. 

In metro Atlanta, the Atlanta Police Department and MARTA have LGBT liaisons.

[photo by Jon-Michael Sullivan courtesy Augusta Chronicle]

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