New Gwinnett sheriff appoints first-ever LGBTQ liaison

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Gwinnett Sheriff Keybo Taylor set his sights on diversifying the agency’s command staff when he took office as the county’s first-ever Black sheriff. He named the first LGBTQ section commander and LGBTQ liaison, becoming the first metro Atlanta sheriff to do so.

Taylor also added the office’s first Hispanic assistant chief, first Black assistant chiefs and first Black chief deputy, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post. It’s a new look for the command staff, which Taylor said was earned.

“When you go back and look at anybody that is unrepresented, a lot of times for whatever reason they don’t get the chances or opportunities,” he told Project Q Atlanta.

Extending those opportunities to underrepresented communities included naming Major Renee Walker as LGBTQ section commander and LGBTQ liaison for the sheriff’s office.

“It’s not like Major Walker was put in that position because she’s LGBTQ,” Taylor said. “She was put in that position for her qualifications. It was well earned. I’m just honored to give her this opportunity.”

“She’s been a tremendous asset in the last couple months I’ve worked with her,” he added.

Taylor also plans to make the office’s employee training more LGBTQ-inclusive.

“That is coming down the pike,” he said. “What I want to start with is bringing in an outside vendor to give us training on cultural inclusiveness. It deals with how to deal with people in different cultures whether it be racial or sexual orientation or gender.”

Taylor and a sheriff’s office spokesperson said the agency works with the medical provider at the Gwinnett County Jail to make sure incarcerated people with HIV receive proper medications.

“If an inmate came into our facility and needed any medication whether for HIV or anything else, then they’ll make sure that’s provided,” Taylor said.

About two-dozen of the roughly 1,800 people housed at the jail are HIV-positive, according to sheriff’s spokesperson Deputy Ashley Castiblanco. The sheriff’s office wouldn’t say how many of them are receiving HIV medication. The Fulton, Cobb and DeKalb Sheriff’s Offices all supplied this information to Project Q in recent interviews.

“If they received their medication when they were not incarcerated then they will continue to receive that medication while incarcerated,” Castiblanco added. “We will not deprive any individual of their medication. That goes for anyone, including HIV patients.”

The jail doesn’t test all new detainees for HIV when they arrive, but leaves that decision to medical personnel, Castiblanco said.

“It is up to their conversation – between doctor and inmate – to see if it’s needed,” she said. “However at that point, it is beyond us. That is now between healthcare provider and patient.”

Taylor served for 26 years with the Gwinnett County Police Department and became its first Black sergeant and major along the way. He picked up an endorsement from Georgia Equality ahead of winning the November election. Taylor, a Democrat, succeeded Butch Conway, a white Republican who retired.

Taylor took office on Jan. 1 but delayed an official swearing-in ceremony until late February to recover from COVID-19. On his first day as sheriff, Taylor ended the agency’s participation in the controversial 287(g) detention program. The program is an agreement between the sheriff’s office and the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement that gives deputies immigration enforcement powers.

Major Renee Walker is the Gwinnett Sheriff’s Office’s first LGBTQ commander and LGBTQ liaison. (Photo courtesy Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office)

‘I’m more than thankful’

Taking over as the Gwinnett Sheriff’s Office’s first LGBTQ section commander was a long time coming for Walker. She’s held various positions at the office over the past 25 years.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t given that opportunity the first 24 years because that wasn’t just discussed or talked about,” she said. “To say I’m grateful is an understatement. I’m more than thankful.”

Walker leads the office’s professional standards unit, which includes recruiting, hiring and internal affairs. She said she’s busy building a framework for the new LGBTQ liaison position.

“I’m looking into different agencies,” Walker said. “[The Atlanta Police Department] has their liaison and has had that in place for a while.”

“We’re going to be involved in helping foster the partnerships that are extremely significant and important as far as our responsibility at the [sheriff’s office]. Hopefully, within the next few months we’ll have policy in place to have the liaison position going strong,” she added.

Taylor joins Pat Labat in Fulton and Craig Owens in Cobb as new sheriffs in the state’s largest counties. A fourth – DeKalb Sheriff Melody Maddox – took over after former Sheriff Jeffrey Mann stepped down in 2019. She was elected to her first full term last year.

Labat is creating his office’s first-ever LGBTQ liaison position and updating employee training to better address LGBTQ people held at the Fulton jail. Owens and Maddox are also considering adding LGBTQ liaisons.

This story is made possible by a grant from the Election SOS Rapid Response Fund.

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