Milwaukee police announced a new program Monday meant to create safe places for members of the LGBTQ+ community and victims of human trafficking to call for help.
Milwaukee' Safe Place Program is modeled after a similar one that originated in Seattle, where businesses and other institutions can receive stickers and decals identifying themselves as a place to receive help.
Police Chief Jeffrey Norman and Mayor Cavalier Johnson announced the launching outside the program's first participant, the Iron Horse Hotel, at 500 W. Florida St. on Monday.
"We understand we represent a diverse community and we need to have bridges and levels and ways to connect," Norman said.
The announcement comes within months of the murders of two Black transgender women in Milwaukee - 28-year-old Brazil Johnson in June and 35-year-old Regina "Mya" Allen in August.
Police have made no arrests in Johnson's murder, despite a $28,000 reward offered for information leading to those responsible. Police filed homicide charges against a suspect, Clayton A. Hubbird, 31, of Milwaukee, within days of Allen's murder but he was not arrested until Sept. 29, police said Monday.
Hubbird is in Milwaukee County Jail with cash bail set at $250,000, according to online court records.
Milwaukee also has a reputation for being a hub for sex trafficking, but it is often underreported crime. A 2018 study found that 340 young adults and children were victims of sex trafficking in a four-year period.
"(Victims) need to know where they can turn to," Norman said.
Businesses are encouraged to sign up for the program at MKEPDPIO.org/safe-place.
The announcement for the program also comes weeks after the debut of the controversial Netflix series, "Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story," which has reignited discussions about anti-LGBTQ+ biases in police.
"We all know that it exists, that it existed," said Brad Schlaikowski, the executive director of Courage Milwaukee, which works with LGBTQ+ youth. "But what are we all doing together to make it better? I really applaud their efforts in reaching out to the LGBTQ+ community to find out what our needs are and not just assuming responsibility of it."
Schlaikowski compared the program to similar efforts in schools, where decals signifying safe spaces can offer refuge for LGBTQ+ students experience bullying.
"So if a child's getting bullied in the hallway, they know they can duck into this classroom," he said "And then you see the school districts not allowing these signs in their class windows and their children not feeling safe in school, so I do think it will help our city."
Nationally, 31 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed in the U.S. this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The organization tracked a record 50 in 2021, the majority of whom were Black and Latinx transgender women.
The murders of Johnson and Allen are the first of an identified Black transgender woman in Milwaukee since 26-year-old Chanel Larkin was killed in 2010.
Diverse + Resilient, an organization that works with Milwaukee's LGBTQ+ community, surveyed 103 members of the trans community in 2020. Almost half of the respondents said that if they were to report an act of violence against them, they would not be confident something would be done about it and they would not be mistreated.
Norman and Johnson emphasized the city's leadership has completely turned over since early 1990s, when Dahmer preyed on men of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community in Milwaukee.
Johnson pointed to the Human Rights Campaign giving the city a 100 out of 100 score for the inclusivity of its laws and policies. The Police Department also has a unit of liaisons for the LGBTQ+ community in its ranks, Norman said.
How to get help
Diverse + Resilient offers trauma-informed support for the LGBTQ community statewide. To talk to an advocate, call or text the statewide warmline at 414-856-LGBT (5428).
The National Human Trafficking Hotline can be reached at humantraffickinghotline.org or by calling 1-888-373-7888 or texting 233733.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee's Safe Place Program created for LGBTQ+ community