Armed, Uniformed Law Enforcement No Longer Allowed at San Diego LGBT Community Center

The Center's 11-member board of directors voted on the policy change Tuesday, effective immediately

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In a move in support of the Black LGBTQ community, armed uniformed law enforcement officers are no longer allowed at the San Diego LGBT Community Center, the board of directors for the Center unanimously voted Tuesday.

The San Diego LGBT Community Center said the decision is effective immediately. It restricts armed law enforcement at Center facilities or at Center events "unless as a last resort or true emergency."

The San Diego LGBT Community Center runs four facilities: its main Centre Street location in Hillcrest known as The Center; the Sunburst Youth Housing Project on Broadway in downtown San Diego; the Hillcrest Youth Center; and the South Bay Youth Center in Chula Vista.

“This new policy is a result of a reexamination of The Center’s organization structures and the expanded dialogue with the Board of Directors, staff, volunteers and our broad community to do more than say that Black Lives Matter, but to actively work to be antiracist in tangible ways and engage in actions to make it so,” a press release from the Center said.

The Center said that in 2019 it heard from more than 140 Black community members at a Town Hall for the Black LGBTQ community. The Center said many of those community members said they felt the “lack of a policy” restricting the presence of armed law enforcement at the center was a “barrier” to the Black LGTBQ community feeling welcome at The Center.

“Our decision focuses on what armed and uniformed law enforcement officers represent to overpoliced communities that The Center seeks to serve,” the Center's press release continued. “It also reinforces the truth, that while law enforcement is supposed to serve and protect us all, in practice, law enforcement has too often endangered the safety of our Black community through unwarranted stops and searches, excessive force, and in the most devastating cases, extinguished Black lives and Black futures.”

The Center admitted that over its 48-year history, it has “failed to welcome and value our Black community members” but now vows “to do more in action.”

Center CEO Cara Dessert said Tuesday's move is part of that effort.

"Our black community is saying seeing armed uniformed officers is traumatizing and we hear that," Dessert said.

Longtime San Diego LGBTQ activist Nicole Murray Ramirez disagreed with The Center’s policy change Tuesday. In a Facebook post, Ramirez called the move “divisive.”

“This is one of the darkest, most divisive days in the history of our San Diego LGBTQ Community,” Ramirez’s post read, in part.

Ramirez also wrote it is possible to be an “LGBTQ American and be absolutely in support of Black Lives Matter and welcome our San Diego Police officers to our Pride and Center.”

SDPD Chief David Nisleit said, "I am extremely disappointed with the decision made by the leadership of the San Diego LGBT Community Center. Banning people because of their profession and their desire to serve the community is counter to the message of inclusion they have always stood for. The decision to exclude uniformed police officers should be reconsidered."

“This is not about good or bad individual law enforcement officers, but rather a systemic problem in law enforcement that devalues Black lives and creates an environment in which our Black community does not feel welcomed, and in fact strikes fear and trauma,” the Center added.

Dessert said unarmed, plain-clothed law enforcement are more than welcome at the facilities, adding "This is about a uniform and a gun that makes people feel unsafe.”

The Center’s decision comes on the heels of San Diego Pride’s announcement last week saying it would exclude San Diego law enforcement agencies from participating in Pride’s annual parade in Hillcrest until its policy reform demands are met.

One of the demands from San Diego Pride was that the City of San Diego support a phased approach to policy reform recommendations centering Black LGBTQ San Diegans. Pride also wants the city to adopt the #8CantWait police reform campaign that urges law enforcement agencies to adopt eight use of force policies to limit death and injuries caused by officers.

“It’s time to pause in some of the ways we engage with law enforcement and really listen to the voices of the LGBTQ Black community who have been asking for this to happen for a long time,” Pride Executive Director Fernando Lopez said last week.

Last week, in response to San Diego Pride’s decision, the San Diego Police Department released this statement: “The members of the San Diego Police Department are all part of the community, including the LGBTQ community. We are disappointed with the decision made by San Diego Pride because further divide is not what we need at this critical time. We will focus on reviewing recommendations brought forth to continually strengthen community partnerships.”

The San Diego LGBTQ Center works to promote LGBTQ health, wellness and human rights by providing services to men, women, youth, seniors, transgender and non-binary individuals, families, LGBTQ Latino/a/x community members and their families, and those living with HIV in San Diego.

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