Fulton DA wants county, office to be ‘a safe haven’ for LGBTQ+ victims of crime

(L-R) Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Atlanta Police Department Interim Chief Darin Schierbaum attend a vigil for LGBTQ+ victims of crime at Atlanta’s Central Library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. The vigil was organized by the DA’s office and its LGBTQ+ advisory committee. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
(L-R) Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Atlanta Police Department Interim Chief Darin Schierbaum attend a vigil for LGBTQ+ victims of crime at Atlanta’s Central Library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. The vigil was organized by the DA’s office and its LGBTQ+ advisory committee. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

It’s been more than 50 years since the Stonewall Riots in New York launched the modern LGBTQ rights movement. For two of Atlanta’s top law enforcement officials, it’s important to remember those who have been victimized and recognize that more works needs to be done.

Atlanta Interim Police Chief Darin Schierbaum, who is gay, said it’s important to remind the LGBTQ community that the law applies to and protects everyone.

ExploreAtlanta chief puts right-wing extremists on notice

“In some jurisdictions across the country, (LGBTQ individuals) haven’t received the full protection of the law,” Schierbaum said. “You see the district attorney, you see the interim chief of police and many other law enforcement agencies here in the room that are joined together to commit to that protection, say something about the progressive side of Fulton County and Atlanta.”

Agencies from all over Fulton County, along with members of the district attorney’s office and the LGBTQ community, gathered last week at the Central Library downtown for the second annual LGBTQ+ crime victims vigil.

“The idea is we are letting the LGBTQ+ community know that we are here and we are trying to do what we can to address the special needs of that community,” said Will Wooten, deputy district attorney and co-chair of the recently established DA’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee. “I think many people in the community are afraid to come to law enforcement because, historically, law enforcement has not cared for the LGBTQ community in the way that they should.”

Wooten said it’s hard to say if crime impacting the community are going up because, for so long, such incidents have been underreported. According to the FBI’s latest hate crime report from 2019, 6,628 individuals were victims of hate crimes across the country, including 1,429 targeted due to their sexual orientation and 227 victims targeted because of their gender identity.

Combined ShapeCaption
Police officers attend a vigil for LGBTQ+ victims of crime at Atlanta’s Central Library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. The vigil was organized by the DA’s office and its LGBTQ+ advisory committee. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Police officers attend a vigil for LGBTQ+ victims of crime at Atlanta’s Central Library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. The vigil was organized by the DA’s office and its LGBTQ+ advisory committee. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Police officers attend a vigil for LGBTQ+ victims of crime at Atlanta’s Central Library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. The vigil was organized by the DA’s office and its LGBTQ+ advisory committee. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Since Jan. 1, 2021, there have been 74 transgender individuals killed across the country and 17 in 2022, he said.

“Those are just the ones that have been reported, we know that those numbers are historically underreported,” Wooten said. “We want to remember all of those people because we know there are silent victims that don’t get that recognition.”

For District Attorney Fani Willis, making sure LGBTQ people are protected and respected is both a personal and professional mission. During the ceremony, Willis recalled a lawyer who was murdered because of his sexual orientation and attorneys using “gay panic,” blaming a victim’s orientation, as a defense when a client was accused of harming a gay person.

“Pain is one of those things that never go away,” Willis said. “Not only for me personally but I watched so many of my colleagues in pain because he was such a nice young man and such a good lawyer. We lost a gem just because he was homosexual and that is a horrible thing. No one should die because of who they are. It was probably my first lesson as an adult that this is an issue and I’ve never forgotten that lesson.”

Combined ShapeCaption
District Attorney Fani Willis holds an electric candle at a vigil for LGBTQ+ victims of crime at Atlanta’s Central Library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. The vigil was organized by the DA ’s office and its LGBTQ+ advisory committee. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

District Attorney Fani Willis holds an electric candle at a vigil for LGBTQ+ victims of crime at Atlanta’s Central Library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. The vigil was organized by the DA ’s office and its LGBTQ+ advisory committee. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
District Attorney Fani Willis holds an electric candle at a vigil for LGBTQ+ victims of crime at Atlanta’s Central Library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. The vigil was organized by the DA ’s office and its LGBTQ+ advisory committee. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Earlier this year, Willis established the District Attorney’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee to educate her office and other law enforcement officials about how to best serve the LGBTQ community.

“We’ve got to continue to acknowledge that the LGBTQ community is targeted and we have to continue to make sure that we are here for them, we are going to support them and that they have a safe heaven in this community,” she said.

Wooten said it’s important for people to realize that most crimes against LGBTQ+ people are committed by people they know. By having the advisory committee and a specific person to handle crimes against LGBTQ individuals, Wooten hopes it will encourage more people to report those crimes and feel safer reporting them.

“People who are victims of crimes, if they think they are victims of crimes, if they are not sure, if they know someone, they have a direct person they can call that is specially trained, specially qualified to handle those cases,” he said.

The District Attorney’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee can be reached at 404-964-5670 to report any crimes against LGBTQ individuals and discuss resources available.