What does an LGBT Liaison officer (LO) do for those who don’t know?
This probably differs to a certain extent depending on where the liaison officer works, as the boroughs often have different needs. Some boroughs have a lot of LGBT-specific venues, so they will be doing outreach and safety work with them depending on the needs of the local area. Lewisham doesn't have any LGBT-specific venues in Lewisham's area currently, so the work I do is being a contact point for the LGBT+ community. I do liaise internally with LGBT+ identified officers if there is an issue at work but most of my work at the moment is in the community.
People often contact me directly to report an incident or ask for advice - and that includes other services and support agencies. I contact victims who have reported LGBT related crimes or incidents and see if I can help them with referrals to other third party support and signpost them to specific organisations - as the incident with the police may be just one of their current problems which is affecting them. I also liaise with the police officers who are investigating the LGBT related crimes - to see if there are other ways I can assist and support the victims or the staff themselves and often act as a go-between with victims who have had bad experiences with the police previously. I do reassurance visits to vulnerable victims and act as an advocate for a lot of people to get a bit more assistance and help in areas where maybe police don't normally get involved - such as housing problems and mental health.
I sit in on a lot of community meetings and hate crime committees to have that representative voice from the LGBT+ community and what is happening within it. I do a lot of stalls to provide information on services of relevance to the LGBT+ community and to encourage them to report hate-related incidents to police. We also do special events where openly LGBT officers may be required - such as Pride in London and I've given talks on hate crime in the community etc. I have been a volunteer LGBT LO for Lewisham since 2010 but I had to fit all this in around my Response Team duties somehow! Now I've got more time I'm trying to create a proper hub and community for the Lewisham LGBT population to enable sharing and enable some inclusive groups and interests that aren't just focused around the usual clubs and bars, as that excludes so many people - usually the people who could do with the added support of a community!
Does every borough in London have one?
Most Boroughs have some provision; however we are lucky that in Lewisham it is a full time position so that I am able to be more involved in the local community than some other Boroughs who combine the role with CSU and only have a limited amount of resources for community engagement and mainly focus on the side of reporting hate crime after the event. All boroughs will have a Community Safety Unit who investigate LGBT motivated crimes, and those are the people to contact to ask about specific LGBT LO's on each borough. A few boroughs have full time LGBT LO's - usually where there are a lot of LGBT-related venues and focus points for the LGBT community in the form of Soho or events that are on. Most have volunteer part-time officers who fit in LGBT LO duties around their normal employment. These aren't always police constables - some are more senior officers, some are Police Community Support Officer (PCSOs) or Detention Officers and some are staff, such as station officers. Their roles will change depending on what they actually can do - as not all officers would be able to take hate crime reports, for example.
What does this mean for Lewisham?
It means support agencies as well as residents have a reliable contact point, which is important when you're feeling vulnerable in society or have no point of contact into a particular community. I'm looking to expand my role and visibility. I've started an internal staff forum to support staff who are LGBT+ and be their voice to the organisation. I'm also hoping to liaise more with the other forces' LGBT LOs and LAGLOS to share experience, good practice and useful information further afar and implement some of their good ideas back here in Lewisham.
With cuts to local services it has become even more important to have an active community who can use initiative and create their own start-ups and groups and find the support to apply for funding. Safe spaces are still very much needed and they are very important, especially to people who have experienced hostility or rejection from those around them - whether that's within their family or social groups, or from strangers when they are out and about. I want all people to feel safe in Lewisham. I'm trying to expand the education within the borough to break down some of those barriers.
How can people contact you?
They can email me direct at LGBT-PL@met.police.uk and I have a direct telephone number 07872677947. I usually work 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday but I can tweak that to fit, if necessary. If you aren't based in Lewisham but would like to contact an LGBT officer for your area you can find your borough on the Met's website (http://content.met.police.uk/Site/YourBorough) and find the contact details for the CSU or LGBT Liaison officer page from there.
What is currently going on in Lewisham for LGBT people?
There are a number of support groups and a few social and activity groups currently - which I'm hoping will expand - and I would encourage people to let me know about their own groups and events in the borough so I can help circulate the information. In terms of activities there are monthly social drop-ins - one currently at a coffee shop in Catford and one at the Phoenix Housing Green Man complex in Whitefoot. There is a regular swimming group for transgender and non-binary people in Lewisham. There is a LGBT inclusive Over 50's group, an under 16's group and a 16-25 year old group who meet regularly as well as a yoga group, a singing group and a women's hockey team.
In terms of support for other areas of people's lives there are groups for people whose lives are affected by drugs and alcohol who want help for themselves or someone they are supporting, there are mental health drop-ins and HIV support groups/drop ins. There is also a befriending service just starting up in the south for LGBT people who are elderly or unable to leave their homes and we also have a domestic violence service for Lewisham who can practically assist those who are LGBT identified. Please do contact me for more information.