In 2005, Brett Parson, then a sergeant with Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, headed down to Key West to catch the end of a national conference for GLBT criminal-justice professionals. What he got was news that hit closer to home.
”When I got there, everyone was very excited. ‘Robert got us the conference!”’ remembers Parson, now an acting lieutenant. The conference in question is the 12th Annual LEGAL (Law Enforcement, Gays and Lesbians) International Conference of GLBT Criminal Justice Professionals, to be held in Washington May 10-15. And the Robert who secured it for the District was the late Robert Schoonover, a former MPD officer who killed himself in 2006.
Schoonover was also a founding member of the Gay Officers Action League-Mid-Atlantic, and president at the time of his death.
”This is truly his legacy,” says Parson.
What that legacy means, in practical terms, is that Washington will soon play host to about 150 gay police officers and other law professionals, to coincide with National Police Week. The expansive agenda includes workshops, book signings, a program at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, social events, speeches, and keynote addresses from Judy Shepard and former Laramie, Wyo., Chief of Police David O’Malley, who investigated the 1998 beating death of Shepard’s gay son, Matthew.
It also means that following Schoonover’s death, Scott Gunn, an Anne Arundel County Police detective and then GOAL Mid-Atlantic vice president, inherited the responsibility of organizing the upcoming conference.
”It’s been unbelievable how much work it’s been, especially in the last couple months,” says Gunn. ”I’ve been very fortunate with my speakers. I booked them early and haven’t lost any. I e-mailed, searched online, looked for every [GLBT police] agency I could find, from Amsterdam to Australia. I am amazed at the different countries that are coming. That’s one of the things I’m really proud of.”
While Gunn is proud of the international participation — including attendance by Fabrizio Chiazza, an Italian motorcycle cop recently voted ”sexiest man on earth” by users of the Gaydar.UK Web site — the program at the Holocaust Museum is a D.C.-specific draw that may be hard to duplicate elsewhere.
That offering, ”Law Enforcement and Society: Lessons from the Holocaust,” was created by the museum and the Anti-Defamation League following a 1999 visit to the museum by then-MPD Chief Charles Ramsey.
”There was something that really grabbed him,” says Marcus Appelbaum, who coordinates the program. ”It was the role that law enforcement played [in the Holocaust]. … It just exploded. Now we work with about 13 or 14 agencies in the local area, and we’re going national. It’s been very successful.”
Gunn’s Anne Arundel agency was one of those that has experienced the program, which he says will be a ”perfect fit” for attendees.
For the rest of Washington, the conference provides an opportunity for locals to better acquaint themselves with GOAL, founded by two New York City officers in 1981. The D.C. chapter, now called Mid-Atlantic, was founded by Schoonover and others in 1998. Despite its decade of providing a sense of community for the region’s GLBT criminal-justice professionals, both Gunn and Parson lament civilians’ confusion that GOAL is synonymous with MPD’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU).
”When I was planning the conference, I kept hearing, ‘We never knew you existed,”’ says Gunn. ”Everybody always thought Brett Parson was the president.”
And though Parson was a member at the beginning of the local GOAL chapter, the former head of the GLLU, who now heads all of the MPD’s community liaison unit, tried to emphasize the distinction between the two.
”It’s one of the reasons why I stepped down from GOAL when I took on the GLLU. People get confused,” says Parson. ”The GLLU does police work. GOAL is…an independent entity. The main thing was to provide a safe space for LGBT cops; a safe space to socialize and talk about being gay and in this line of work.”
It’s been another ”prefect fit” for Gunn: ”I was around almost from the very beginning, ’98 or ’99. I was very fortunate to find them very early on when coming out. It’s been great. When I first came out, I didn’t know any other gay male police. Finding GOAL worked out really well for me.”
With the District taking its first shot at hosting this conference, locals will have two chances to get involved. First, organizers are presenting a social event at the Green Lantern. Second, GOAL is opening the closing-night ceremony and dinner with Shepard and O’Malley to the public.
Parson’s speech will, however, be delivered during a private luncheon. And while he’s not certain about what he’ll say, he did offer a guarantee of sorts: ”No. 1, it will be entertaining. And No. 2, it will be inspiring in the sense that I hope when people leave afterward they feel good about being gay cops, being the pioneers that they are in the jurisdictions they’re coming from.”
The social event at the Green Lantern, 1335 Green Court, will be Sunday, May 11, from 8 to 10 p.m. The closing ceremony with Judy Shepard, David O’Malley and entertainment from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s Potomac Fever ensemble will be held Wednesday, May 14, from 7 to 10 p.m. in the grand ballroom of the George Washington University Cafritz Conference Center. For reservations or tickets, which cost $60, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit GOAL Mid-Atlantic at www.midatlanticgoal.org.