Ann Arbor appoints new LGBTQ liasion

Wednesday, September 27, 2017 - 9:23pm

The city of Ann Arbor has officially named Brad O’Furey and Sgt. Dawn Murphy as this year’s LGBTQ liaisons.

The position, created last year by Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor, is a volunteer role that serves to help answer questions and provide a safe community for Ann Arbor’s LGBTQ population. While no specific incidents led to the creation of the position, Taylor told the Daily last August it was the result of a recommendation from the city’s Human Rights Commission.

“Ann Arbor has an active human rights commission that focuses very carefully on LGBTQ rights,” Taylor said. “They recommend that there be such a position, and we were delighted to create one.”

O’Furey was the first person to take on the liaison role last year, and will reprise it this year. He is the immediate past president of the Jim Toy Community Center in Kerrytown and a longtime LGBTQ activist.

“With the volatile nature of the country today, I think it’s important the community should have their voices represented … especially with the increased number of transgender Americans who are underserved by these communities,” O’Furey said. “I have existing relationships with people in the city government — with the mayor, with City Council — so I felt that (this position) was a good use of my skills and my connections in the community to provide that voice to the community at large.”

O’Furey spent the past year working with the police department and the Human Rights Commission to help educate law enforcement officials on how to create a city that is safe and welcoming for marginalized folks.

“(I’ve been) creating a police department that is more educated on these issues and how to respond to harassment, what terms to use, asking folks what pronouns they want to use when dealing with the community,” he said.

The close connection to the police department last year is what led Sgt. Dawn Murphy to join O’Furey as a liaison this year. As a law enforcement official herself, Murphy is committed to bridging the gap between the department and the community, and helping the two groups learn from and about each other.

“I accepted the position because I took over the Community Engagement Unit and it was part of the unit, but I also like reaching out to the community and building a base with everyone who’s out there,” Murphy said. “I’ve been with the department for 15 years and from my recollection as a road officer, I never had a ton of issues … so now that I’m in this position, I can actually reach out to the community more and have direct contact to see if there are issues that aren’t being talked about for whatever reason.”

The duo has a list of goals they’d like to accomplish this year. O’Furey hopes to continue the progress that has already been made by opening dialogues between the LGBTQ community and law enforcement.

“We are working with the Human Rights Commission, the Ann Arbor Police Department, the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s department and the FBI — all the liaisons — to have a series of town halls with officers, with folks in law enforcement and have a conversation in a town hall setting where people in the community can ask questions and have a dialogue on how we make Ann Arbor more safe,” he said.

Murphy agreed, also highlighting a desire to get police officers to attend as many events at the Jim Toy Community Center as possible.

“Not to enforce anything, but actually just to have better communication and make people more relaxed and comfortable around the police,” Murphy said. “I would like to have more communication, attend more meetings, see if anything is going on. And hopefully for next year, building on to education from the community and into the department, just to give officers a better idea of what’s going on.”

Murphy plans to hold the volunteer liaison position for as long as she stays at her current job in the police department.

In addition to working within the city of Ann Arbor, O’Furey said, the pair hopes to begin working with University of Michigan law enforcement to build a safe campus for LGBTQ students as well.

“Jim Toy himself started the Spectrum Center, so we do work with the Spectrum Center on multiple issues and we look to work with them … to develop connections with the University of Michigan police and security,” he said.