Editor's note: A prior version of this story contained a misspelling of Melissa Meyer's name. WCPO regrets this error.
CINCINNATI -- A four-year-old program is helping Cincinnati police build new bridges to a growing community.
Officer Angela Vance covers a beat like her colleagues do. But her beat isn't a neighborhood of houses or businesses. It's the LGBTQ community. She was appointed the department’s first full-time LGBTQ liaison in 2013.
Vance calls the LGBTQ “a silent community,” so she speaks up for them.
“A lot of people don’t know my position exists,” Vance says. “I’m here to help.”
She sees part of her job as calming their fears and other people’s fears about them.
"I think having a law enforcement officer in this position is a vital position because it breaks down that fear," Vance says.
Part of Vance’s job is to teach fellow officers about LGBTQ issues and how to properly report hate crimes. Between 20 to 25 percent of lesbian and gay people experience a hate crime in their lifetime, one study says.
Vance also comforts victims and help them through the police process.
“I work closely with investigators to make victims comfortable,” she says.
The part Vance likes best, she says, is reaching out to LGBTQ youth.
"So that the kids that are in schools feel comfortable and affirmed and safe because bullying is a big thing," Vance says.
She says she’s passionate about “helping our youth and getting them to succeed.”
Melissa Meyer, director of Safe and Supported, says she’s happy to have Vance’s help. It’s a serious issue because many parents reject their LGBTQ kids, according to Meyer. She said LGBTQ youth, which represent 7 percent of the young population in Hamilton County, account for 40 percent of the young and homeless.
“Angie Vance and (Vance's partner Officer) Lisa Johnson were both involved in early planning stages of Safe and Supported and continue to be involved in helping us develop strategies to prevent and end LGBTQ youth homelessness,” Meyer said.
Safe and Supported focuses on prevention efforts and works to educate parents of LGBTQ children, Meyers says. Besides homelessness, parental rejection puts them at risk of suicide, substance abuse, depression and risky sexual behavior, Meyer said.
“I believe a lot of times parents don’t understand that when they are imposing harsh restrictions on a child as their way of dealing with something that’s uncomfortable for them. they’re really putting their child at significant risk for some really negative outcomes,” Meyer said.
Lighthouse Youth Services is building a new shelter for the homeless, but it won’t cover the need for shelter beds, Meyer said.
So Safe and Supported recruits volunteers to house LGBTQ youth for a year through its Host Home Program.
Vance says she has been reaching out to area colleges and hoping to meet soon with Cincinnati Public School officials to spread the message of acceptance of LGBTQ youth in schools.
“Education is very important to me. We tend to be afraid of things we don’t know,” she said.
Vance says Cincinnati has “come a long way” toward acceptance but still has a long way to go.
Vance and Meyer are optimistic that a new ABC miniseries this week will help.
ABC is chronicling the personal and political struggles of the LBGTQ community in a four-night miniseries, “When We Rise." The first part airs Monday night at 9 ET.
“Hopefully it will spur some conversations,” Vance said.
Meyer is hoping it also raises self-esteem among LBGTQ youth.
“I think it’s incredibly important for young people to see themselves in the media,” Meyer said. She mentioned a study that found a decrease in youth suicides as states began permitting same-sex marriages.
“They believe it’s correlated to knowing that there’s a greater acceptance to their identities, and so having a major television series on the history of LGBTQ folks in our country, I think, will have a really great impact to help young people to know there is greater acceptance, (that) we do have a rich history, and that we are a society and culture that is becoming more welcoming and embracing young people,” Meyers said.