Detroit Police Department LGBT Liaison Cpl. Dani Woods announced in a Facebook post on Tuesday, Jan. 22, that she had been “disinvited” to participate in a panel discussion at this week’s Creating Change Conference, sponsored by the National LGBTQ Task Force, taking place at the Detroit Marriot at the Renaissance Center downtown. Woods was initially supposed to sit on a panel for the What the L? All Things Lesbian workshop, to participate in a discussion about the movement, wellness, mental health, education and financial and family planning.
Woods, in her post, said that she was told she was not welcome if she were to attend in uniform and/or carrying a gun, despite the fact she was asked to appear on the panel in her official capacity as LGBT liaison.
“I’ve been asked to withdraw from the panel and not attend the conference due to the feelings of some attendees,” Woods’ post read in part. “This conference comes to our city and discounts the progress we [have] made and has the audacity to cast me out of my own community. I am deeply saddened, disappointed and hurt.”
Initially contacted via email, Creating Change Director Andy Garcia, a full-time employee with the National LGBTQ Task Force, was concise in his response.
“I had a conversation with Officer Woods,” Garcia said. “I asked that she not attend the conference in uniform with her weapon. She said that was not possible. Creating Change has an explicit policy that no guns are allowed.”
But that’s not where the discussion ended. Since posting about the conference yesterday, Woods has received about 100 comments, nearly all of them in support, and her post has been shared 20 times.
“They are seriously discriminating against me to my face,” said Woods Wednesday when reached by phone. “That’s what makes it so hard. Policies I get. Policies are in place for a reason, but policies also sometimes exclude [in] certain instances. They also told me military personnel would be asked to leave if they were in uniform.”
In recent years, Woods has become a very popular figure in Metro Detroit’s LGBT community. She has won high marks from community leaders for her efforts as a bridge builder between the police department and a community that has often felt disenfranchised. She hosts an annual LGBT community chat with Detroit Police Chief James Craig, and she has created an LGBT community advisory board.
“It’s so disheartening,” Woods said. “I get policy but, at the same time, there is room for gray sometimes. Andy did say to me, ‘Well, if you could come off duty in civilian attire and no gun, we would love to have you.’ That defeats the whole purpose to me because Dani wasn’t asked to come. Corporal Woods, our LGBT liaison, was asked to be on the panel and represent our city and the strides we have made in building this relationship. It was a solution that made zero sense. It defeated the purpose of me coming.”
Woods said Garcia and other conference organizers did not consider the political climate in Detroit and the strides made between the Detroit Police Department and the LGBT community when making their decision.
“You’re creating change how?” Woods asked. “From the conversations I’ve heard from them, it was all about the past and not about what’s going on today and definitely not what’s going on in Detroit. You’re bringing your baggage here.”
Still, in a later statement, Garcia stood firm. He said his intention was to protect conference attendees coming from cities and regions where relationships between the LGBT community and the police are rocky at best.
“Officer Woods has contributed to the LGBT movement and we applaud the progress she has made in Detroit between law enforcement and the LGBT community,” Garcia said. “At the same time, we have thousands of guests who have come from communities across the country that have had very different experiences with law enforcement. We need to listen to them, too.
“This rule is not about an individual person,” Garcia went on. “It’s about the relationship between law enforcement and black and brown communities, LGBT people and people with disabilities. Our primary responsibility is to the physical and emotional safety of our participants. While it may be different here in Detroit, we have people here from all over the country where that reality is not the case and there are toxic relationships between police and the community.”
Despite the apparent finality of Garcia’s decision, many continued to discuss the controversial choice via social media.
“Creating Change 2019, you have made a huge mistake,” read a post by Ethan C. J. Best, an out transgender man who is also a public safety officer and a volunteer for the conference. “You have shown some different sides of what Creating Change is supposed to be about. This is an opportunity for some real discussions and change.”
Some were even more passionate.
“YOU are one of US, and a valued member of THIS city,” said activist and political organizer Cynthia Thornton in her comment to Woods’s post. “No outside organization hoping to act in the best interests of a people can successfully demonstrate that intent by ostracizing a hometown member of the target group who is treasured in that host city. So those who made the tone-deaf decision have not only undercut their mission, but insulted Detroiters and beyond.”
Event organizers notified BTL Wednesday evening to watch for updates on this story.