Atlanta Police say ‘It Gets Better’ to LGBT youth

Deputy Chief Renee Propes, the highest ranking openly gay person in the APD, explains in the video she had a hard time accepting herself as a lesbian into her 20s. She also said after the video was shown that she was in awe of all of the officers who came forward to participate.

Officer Dani Lee Harris, the LGBT liaison during the APD’s raid on the gay bar the Atlanta Eagle, also participated in the project and said she hopes the video helps young people struggling with the sexuality and gender identity to realize there are those who will support them.

Officer Eric King explained how he knew in middle school he wasn’t attracted to girls like other boys were. Officer Andi Cameron knew she was gay in the fourth grade but didn’t come out to her sister until she was 16 and not to her parents until she was 24.

Capt. Henrietta Smith, 53, has been with the APD for 24 years. She said she knew she was gay from a young age but because of the environment she grew up in, she made choices that took her away from being herself.

“Once I lost my children’s father, I decided to be myself,” she said in an interview after the video was shown. “I came out soon after I arrived at the academy. A lot of folks already knew.”

Smith said the APD has been very good to her, but there are those who still are not accepting. She also understands the tension between the LGBT citizens of the city after the unconstitutional raid on the Eagle. That raid led to several officers being fired and the city settling lawsuits for millions of dollars.

“The LGBT community is just as much a part of this community as anyone else,” she said. “It’s unfortunate sometimes things go the way they do and we are perceived to be prejudiced against a particular group of people.”

Smith says she hopes the APD’s “It Gets Better” video reaches young people who may feel isolated for who they are. “We are all put here for a reason,” she said.

Sgt. Michael Graham, 48, is the evening watch supervisor for Zone 2 that includes Buckhead. He moved to Atlanta nine years ago to specifically join the APD.

“I’ve always wanted to be a police officer to help people but was afraid to join because I’m gay. I Googled ‘gay friendly police departments’ and this one came up,” Graham said.

Graham acknowledged the first few years on the force as an openly gay man were difficult, but the climate has changed considerably and the department is overwhelmingly accepting of other LGBT officers.

Officer Anthony Blair, 34, joined the APD in 2007 and works in Zone 1 in northwest Atlanta. He said he joined the APD to help people as well. Participating in the “It Gets Better” video means helping young people struggling with who they are, he said.

“I want them to know they are loved, to have self-esteem, and there are people out there who will support them,” he said.

LGBT liaison Brian Sharp and his partner, Officer Daniel King, appear together in the video to say, “it gets better.”

Glen Paul Freedman, the chair of the Atlanta Police LGBT’s Advisory Board, gave kudos to the police department for putting together the video and considered it a “major step forward” in healing past rifts between the APD and the city’s LGBT community.

“I think it’s important we get this message out,” Freedman said.

Photo: The gay and lesbian officers appearing in the Atlanta Police Department’s ‘It Gets Better’ video gathered for a group shot after the video debuted Dec. 12. (by Dyana Bagby)