Atlanta Police Appoint New LGBT Liaison

Photo credit: Atlanta Police Department

The Atlanta Police Department recently named Officer Courtney Mack as its newest liaison with the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

Mack joined Officer Eric King as one of the department’s two LGBT liaisons in late March. Some of her duties will include responding to and documenting hate crimes that may occur against people in the LGBT community.

“As a member of the gay community, I will continue to nurture and develop the strong legacy of cooperation and growth between LGBT citizens and the APD,” Mack said in a press release.

In recent decades, many urban police departments have established LGBT liaison positions to combat reports of discrimination and police misconduct against the LGBT community.

A 2014 report on a national survey of LGBT people found that 73 percent of respondents had face-to-face contact with the police in the past five years. Of those respondents,

  • 21 percent reported encountering hostile attitudes from officers
  • 14 percent reported verbal assault by the police
  • three percent reported sexual harassment
  • two percent reported physical assault at the hands of law enforcement officers

Police abuse, neglect and misconduct were consistently reported at higher frequencies by respondents of color and transgender and gender nonconforming respondents.

A 2015 Williams Institute study found that establishing a culture of acceptance in the police force and the surrounding community is likely to improve policing and increase overall safety.

For example, Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department created a Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit in response to several incidents of police harassment against LGBT people in the late 90s, and a growing concern that hate crimes against LGBT people were underreported in the city.

In the year following the appointment of LGBT liaison officers, the reporting of hate crimes against LGBT people in Washington, D.C. doubled. Additionally, the GLLU has been credited with raising awareness of same-sex intimate partner violence in the city. In 2000, no cases of same-sex intimate partner violence had been reported. As of 2012, the department had investigated 460 cases.

The establishment of LGBT-centric outreach departments within police programs began after the riots and raids of gay bars in the 1960s. Elliot Blackstone was the first LGBT liaison in the United States, appointed to the San Francisco Police Department in 1962.

Now, major cities across the country– such as Dallas, Cincinnati, Boise, New York City, Washington D.C. and Atlanta— have appointed liaisons to the LGBT community.

This post was written by Casie Wilson. Follow her on Twitter @casiedwilson


Transmedia Project: Yoga’s path from Hindu practice to Western exercise

Yoga is a $16.8 billion industry in the United States alone. An estimated 36.7 million Americans participated in some form of yoga in 2016, but most likely the yoga they partook in doesn’t resemble yoga’s origins or spiritual roots at all.

Yoga is much more than downward dog poses, yoga pants and anything that appeared in box office flop, “The Love Guru.” It is a spiritual tradition that goes back thousands of years, and it’s one of the most important concepts to the Hindu faith.

Yoga’s root “yuj” means to unite. According to Nanette Spina, assistant professor of religion at the University of Georgia, the yoga most Westerners are familiar with is a category of yoga called hatha yoga.

“(Hatha yoga) can be taken out of its original context and be used for its mind body alignment,” Spina said, whose main research interest is the Hindu tradition in India, Sri Lanka and North America.

But this physical type of yoga is only a small aspect of yoga’s larger spiritual meaning and tradition. Yoga dates back to the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu holy text thought to be written by 300 BCE, and it includes three different types of yoga: Bhakti, Jnana and Karma.

All three are paths to achieve moksha (release from the cycle of reincarnation), which is the ultimate goal for Hindus. It’s effectively three different methods to the same goal, which is a higher form of life.

“We’re using yoga and path interchangeably,” Spina said. “They’re both modes or means or practices. It’s not just a belief — it’s a practice.”


Bhakti yoga is the path of devotion, and it typically involves lots of meditation, prayer and worship to fully dedicate one’s self to God. Slowly, the devotee loses self-identity and merges with God to achieve moksha.

Jnana yoga is the path of self transcending knowledge, and its the process of converting intellectual knowledge into practical wisdom so one can see the difference between the immortal soul and the body. This is done through meditation, philosophy and self-realization.

Karma yoga is the path of selfless action. It’s where the colloquial concept of karma comes from, where good is rewarded and bad is punished. Spina described Mahatma Gandhi as the spitting image of karma yoga.

“It’s the idea that one can reach union with the divine through our responsibilities to each other and the divine,” Spina said, “like Gandhi (does through) service.

All three of these types of yoga are almost nonexistent in most yoga studios around the Unites States. The physical aspects have grown, overshadowed and replaced the spiritual history. Spina has her own theory on how Western yoga came to be.

“One of the reasons maybe in presenting these practices to Westerners, some schools of yoga thought it would be more universal or even inclusive if they reduce the amount of Hindu cultural associations,” Spina said. “Other schools of yoga in the U.S. do not do that. They explain more about the original context, but it depends on the school.”

In Athens, most of the yoga studios offer overtly secular classes. However, some individual yoga instructors focus on the spiritual aspects more than others.

Megan Madhavi Burke, owner of the Healing Arts Center, said she tries to leave the spiritual elements of her classes up to interpretation.

“I have to be very careful because I do use it as a portal into a much greater reality,” Burke, who also attends Catholic mass, said. “Instead of using the word God, which gets a little slippery, I use the word mystery. It leaves it up to whatever that means to you.”

The Sangha Yoga Studio is where she instructs her hatha yoga classes. She said sangha basically means “your spirituals peeps.”

“Because I want the studio to appeal to everyone, I’m really the only one that has a more spiritual slant,” Burke said. Pretty much every other class here is different — a little more body based.”

Hatha yoga is a very effective form of exercise, but Spina said the health and physical benefits of yoga are merely side effects, not the main purpose of Hindi yoga.

“The side effects of yoga are stress reduction, focus, regulating breathing and stretching,” Spina said. “Some will say that’s enough benefit to do it.”

It’s uncertain whether many of those 36.7 million yoga participates are attempting to reach moksha, but regardless of religious faith, there are many people, such as Burke, who still use hatha yoga to get closer to God in their own way.

“I just think it’s a portal into a greater inquiry,” Burke said, “but if you just want to use it to lengthen your hamstrings, that’s cool.”

This story was a collaboration between Rakel Johnson, Anna Logan, Zach Hanson and Casie Wilson.

Married LGBT Couples are Happier, Healthier

Photo credit: Flickr

A recent study has found that married adults in the LGBT community are reportedly happier and healthier than singles of the same demographics.

Those legally married reported better quality of life and more economic and social resources than unmarried partnered. Physical health indicators were similar between legally married and unmarried partnered.

Singles reported poorer health and fewer resources than legally married and unmarried partnered.

Among the women in the study, those who were married were more likely to report experiencing micro-aggressions in the larger community.

These results came from an extensive survey conducted by the University of Washington School of Social Work. national, longitudinal study with a representative sample of LGBT older adults, known as Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality/Gender Study (NHAS), which focuses on how historical, environmental, psychological, behavioral, social and biological factors are associated with health, aging and quality of life.

 The survey included nearly 2,000 participants who resided in states with legalized same-sex marriage in 2014. Of the participants, 24 percent were legally married, and 26 percent were unmarried partnered and 50 percent were single.

 In a press release, research study supervisor of the UW School of Social Work Jayn Goldsen emphasized studying older members of the LGBT community to better gauge their needs in terms of public policy.

“Service providers need to understand the historical context of this population,” she said. “In the nearly 50 years since Stonewall, same-sex marriage went from being a pipe dream to a legal quagmire to reality — and it may be one of the most profound changes to social policy in recent history.”

Goldsen and her colleagues concluded that LGBT older adults, and practitioners serving them, should better educate themselves regarding policies and protections related to age and sexual and gender identity.

The researchers also encouraged further research as to how legalized same-sex marriage fits into the context of LGBT older adults’ lives.

The study determined more research is needed to understand factors contributing to decisions to marry, including short- and long-term economic, social, and health outcomes associated with legal marriage among LGBT older adults.

Over time, Goldsen and colleagues will continue to examine the influence of same-sex marriage policy on partnership status and health.

This post was written by Casie Wilson. Follow her on Twitter @casiedwilson

Podcast: Spectrum Ep. 1: LGBT-certified businesses

From Athens LGBTQA, in Athens, GA, I’m Casie Wilson, and this is Spectrum.

Today, March 24, 2017, we’ll get down to business, discuss the growing number of certified LGBT-owned enterprises and why that number doesn’t accurately represent businesses here in Athens.

In January, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce reported the number of businesses that are at least 51 percent LGBT-owned and registered has tripled in the past five years.The NGLCC’s 909 registered businesses contributed over 1.15 billon dollars to the U.S. economy in 2015.

However, reports of certified enterprises are not exactly representative of all LGBT business. Athens businesses are underrepresented in these reports. Despite the proposed benefits LGBT chambers of commerce offer, no Athens businesses are registered in either the National or Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Chambers of Commerce.

While co-owner of Last Resort Grill Jamshad Zarnegar says he’s never experienced discrimination as an openly gay man, he says he can understand why Athens LGBT business owners would want to keep their orientations and identities private:

“Your sexual preference, to me, is a private matter. But I also think we are no different as business owners than anybody else. I don’t think being gay or straight should make a difference in whether people patronize your restaurants or not. If you run a great business, and you have great food and great service, and you’re very involved in your community’s nonprofit, those are important things to me, especially in small communities.”

This post was written and recorded by Casie Wilson. Follow her on Twitter @casiedwilson