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Cincinnati Police LGBTQ liaisons changing perspectives in the community and department

CPD LGBTQ liaison Lisa Johnson
Posted at 5:00 AM, Jun 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-08 09:19:55-04

CINCINNATI — There are unique challenges within the LGBTQ communities, and sometimes they require a different approach, especially where law enforcement is concerned.

It's part of why Cincinnati Police Department has an LGBTQ liaison: Cincinnati police officer Lisa Johnson is an ally.

"It's very unique," Johnson said. "I'm very proud to be in this role."

It's a role more departments and law enforcement agencies are considering and hiring. Johnson said she often gets approached with questions about how to develop an LGBTQ liaison program -- and she's happy to help.

LGBTQ liaison officer Lisa Johnson
Cincinnati Police LGBTQ liaison Officer Lisa Johnson smiles with people offering free hugs.

"I think a lot of the community needs someone to speak out for them when sometimes they can't speak out for themselves," she said.

For years, there was an adversarial relationship between LGBTQ people and law enforcement, which often enforced strict and cruel laws meant to criminalize being gay or gender non-conforming. An anti-police riot at New York City's Stonewall Inn in June 1969 is widely credited with starting the modern Pride movement.

"Everybody's treated the same here," Johnson said. "What happened in the past is just in the past. We need to move forward, and make sure that this doesn't happen anymore."

But there is a hesitancy to trust law enforcement among some in LGBTQ communities -- so much so that NYC Pride has banned uniformed officers through 2025 from its parade and the organization's events.

Part of Johnson's job is to make a victim feel comfortable and rebuild that trust.

"Everything that anyone calls me and says is confidential," she said. "Everybody was treated differently back in the past. Law enforcement changed. We're not that anymore. We have a lot of out people on the department."

The other part of her job is to foster that trust inside the department itself.

Cincinnati police started the liaison job in 2013, initially naming now-retired officer Angela Vance to the role.

"I think having a law enforcement officer in this position is a vital position because it breaks down that fear," Vance told WCPO in 2017.

LGBTQ have an ally with Cincinnati police

Johnson took on the role, in addition to her other beats of human trafficking and homelessness, when Vance retired. They'd partnered up for years anyway, so it was a natural transition.

"We kept running into each other and we're like, 'Hey, let's partner up, because you're coming to my runs, and I'm coming to yours,'" Johnson said.

She was already partnering with Vance when the Pulse nightclub massacre happened in June 2016, days before Cincinnati's Pride celebration. Johnson spent time in Orlando in the aftermath. It underscored to her the importance of her role.

"You realize after that happens, someone's got to stand up and do something," she said. "I guess I started realizing it more when you see so much hate out here."

You'll find Johnson and other CPD officers leading Cincinnati's Pride Parade, and she'll be there when the Pride flag is raised above City Hall. Being an ally makes sense, she said.

"Would you want your loved one being beat up for who they love or what they look like?" she asks. "You wouldn't."

Being allies and leaders in the community and within the force is why Cincinnati police officers Lisa Johnson and Angela Vance (retired) are two of the Tri-State's Points of Pride.

WCPO is committed to telling the stories of LGBTQ+ individuals in the Tri-State year-round. If you know someone who should be recognized as a Point of Pride, send an email to evan.millward@wcpo.com or newsdesk@wcpo.com