While many people may feel safer in the presence of police, this is not always true for historically marginalized communities both across the nation and here on our own campus.
On Wednesday, the Q Center hosted an open discussion entitled “Health & Wellness on Campus and in the Community,” the second town hall in the three-part series. The non-student guests included two UW Police Department (UWPD) officials and a representative from the Intramural Activities Building (IMA).
The discussion began with the police officials citing their relationship to the queer community and their stake in protecting queer individuals. Commander Craig Wilson spoke of his son, an openly gay man from Snohomish County, and Deputy Chief Les Liggins spoke of his time at the Seattle Police Department and his efforts to connect with the Seattle queer community.
After these brief introductions, several students immediately brought up their concerns that the UWPD was “not on their side,” citing instances of police brutality at the Jan. 20 protest of the Milo Yiannopoulos event. One student who attended the protest cited the use of bikes to push students down the stairs, causing several students to fall down and get hurt. At one point, the group of protestors was chanting for a medic, but no police action was taken.
Wilson explained the use of bikes to move protesters as a means to “keep order.”
“The anarchist group had an agenda to break things up and the police had a responsibility to control that scene,” Wilson said. “It wasn’t done in a way to assault individuals, but to open up that area.”
A UW student then responded that the queer and trans community did not feel protected because the police presence on Jan. 20 was to protect the event and not the protesters, despite Yiannopoulos attacking a transgender student a month prior and allegations that he planned on revealing undocumented students for doxxing purposes at the University of California, Berkeley talk.
“When we say our lives [are] in danger, the cops aren’t here to protect us,” the student said. “What’s more important, keeping this event going and keeping order, or protecting the marginalized people in [queer] communities?”
The students continued to deconstruct the police presence on the night of Jan. 20, some even stating that a large crowd of anarchists made them feel safer than the police did. Both Liggins and Wilson explained their perspectives, but it was clear that the relationship between the police and the queer community would not be healed in one conversation.
This was evident from the fact that the police officers misgendered two students even after a Q Center employee noted the correct pronouns for the students. The police officers apologized after they had been called out, and one of the misgendered students stressed the responsibility of the UWPD.
“I’m very happy to be this voice and to speak, but I shouldn’t have to be correcting you,” the student said. “You should have this knowledge and you should be continually acting to get this knowledge.”
The police officials thanked the students for being honest and acknowledged that they were interested in getting more trainings for UWPD officers.
After UWPD spoke, Adam Serafin, associate director of communications & development at the IMA, briefly spoke on how the IMA was reaching out to the queer community. Serafin stated that the IMA was working on adding queer instructors and more queer-centered events, such as the recently added queer swim hour. Serafin also acknowledged that the gender-neutral bathrooms are in need of improving, and that the census statistics should depend on preferred gender rather than legal or perceived gender.
Both Serafin and the UWPD officers are still open to student input.
The next Q Center town hall will be March 8 in HUB 315 and will focus on the relationship of homelessness and LGBTQIA+ communities.
Reach contributing writer Victoria Naylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @victoriaGnaylor