Captain Michael Bender, who became Richmond Police Department’s new LGBTQ Liaison in August, wants to ensure that Richmond’s LGBTQ community feels welcomed and included throughout the city.
In June 1969, police raided Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City, sparking two nights of rioting that have gone down in history as a catalyst of the gay rights movement. Today, half a century later, it’s not uncommon to encounter anti-police sentiments among members of the LGBTQ community. “No cops at Pride” becomes a mantra each June for those aware of the long history of injustices committed against the LGBTQ community by police.
In hopes of building a stronger, healthier relationship with the community, the Richmond Police Department established an LGBTQ liaison officer position in 2013. This past August, Captain Michael Bender took over as RPD’s LGBTQ liaison officer, replacing Captain Dan Minton, who had held the position since 2016.
Bender, who has been with RPD for almost 25 years, said that a big part of his responsibilities as LGBTQ Liaison is being available to the community. “A liaison role is about accessibility,” he said. “Who do you go to talk to if you have an issue?”
This falls in line with precedents that past liaisons have set. In 2017, Richmond police investigated an incident in which an individual spray-painted the words “Gay Move Die” on the side of a car as a hate crime. Capt. Minton, LGBTQ liaison at the time, was actively involved in communicating updates about the investigation to members of the LGBTQ community.
Bender says that it is important for him to help out the LGBTQ community in Richmond, because everyone should feel welcome in the community as a whole.
“One of the big things I always tell officers is ‘how would you want your family treated … if they encountered the police?’” Bender said. “If you can make somebody feel welcome and feel accepted, then they’re part of the community. And that’s what we want for everybody in the city. It’s not just certain groups or certain people that we want to be in the community, we want everybody to feel a fabric of Richmond because it’s a great city.”
While Bender had never attended a Pride festival prior to becoming LGBTQ liaison, this year’s VA PrideFest, which occurred on September 28, was his first. Bender hoped to use the event as an opportunity to make his face known to the community and as a way to build trust.
“It’s just about changing people’s perceptions and talking to people like they’re people,” Bender said. “I mean, we’re all people. So there’s no difference, as far as I’m concerned, just because I’m wearing a uniform.”
It’s probably comes as no surprise that Bender disagrees with the notion of “no cops at Pride.”
“In this day and age, having an event where you have over 20 to 30,000 people, it’s a public safety issue if you don’t have some law enforcement presence,” he said. “Speaking to the president of [VA Pride, James Millner], he is very adamant that having uniformed officers there is imperative for everybody’s safety.”
Bender has only served as LGBTQ liaison officer for around two months now. He says that he has had conversations with his predecessor about how to best handle the responsibilities of the position, and seeks to continue the improvements he has seen the Richmond Police Department has made since he joined their ranks in 1995.
“It’s a new position and it’s an unknown,” he said. “I’m just hoping I can do a good job and be there when somebody needs me.”
Top Photo courtesy Richmond Police