(EDITOR'S NOTE: The GLLU presentation will be Webcast Wednesday, May 11, between 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., at www.ashinstitute.harvard.edu/Ash/)
Unless a person has had direct contact with the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, it might be easy to take this unique institution for granted. But those who spend their time looking for the cream of governments' crop of programs have certainly taken notice.
The Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government on April 20 announced the 15 finalists for five Innovations in American Government Awards. GLLU made the cut. Should the GLLU win one of the awards, they'll win a $100,000 grant -- funded by the Ford Foundation -- to be used to help replicate the program in other jurisdictions.
"It's not in the bag. But if we get it, it's huge. It's huge.," emphasized Sgt. Brett Parson, head of the GLLU. "To make it to the Top 18 is huge. It's really, really exciting."
Parson said he and his fellow GLLU officers learned that they had been nominated for the prestigious award months ago, having been nominated by an anonymous member of the community.
"These efforts represent the best and brightest in government innovations," said Ash Institute Director Gowher Rizvi, in a prepared statement, referring to the finalists. "Each takes a creative approach to a significant problem. It is our honor to shine a bright light on them and to encourage other government entities to replicate them."
Adding to the importance of GLLU making the finalists' cut is that no gay-related program has made it this far in the 18-year history of the award. Carl Fillichio, vice president of the D.C.-based Council for Excellence in Government, which helps to administer the award, says that while many recipients have been gay, that fact has been merely incidental. For example, Fillichio himself is gay, and was part of the "No Sweat" team that won an award in 1996 for their work toward eradicating sweat shops. Fillichio also points to San Francisco's award-winning "Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP)," which has brought GLBT pride celebrations to prisons, as a recipient with gay-related components, but is not specifically gay. Unlike the GLLU.
"There is nothing like the GLLU, but there are some we need to convince," says Parson. He'll get his chance to tout the GLLU May 11. He and local gay activist Darren Glymph will be traveling to Harvard to make a public presentation to the national selection committee.
"My job is to tell them we're not your mother's Oldsmobile," says Parson with a laugh, explaining that some other police departments have liaisons to the gay community. Often, says Parson, that liaison works alone, answering questions about gay-related crimes, and doing not much else. "We have an entire staff. We are a unit within the police department, freestanding and self-supporting. We combine the traditional outline of a liaison with actual crime fighting.
"The winning combination [for presenting] would probably be a member of the unit and a member of the community," says Parson, pointing to himself and Glymph. "Darren [Glymph] is a attorney in Washington. He's on the board of the D.C. Coalition, Black Pride, the Mayor's Advisory Committee, … He has an unbelievable résumé and a great personality. We'll have five minutes to present in front of the selection committee."
Following the May 11 presentations, the award winners will be named July 27 at the Excellence in Government Conference, held in Washington.
While it remains to be seen whether the GLLU will make it to the top, Parson says the GLLU has begun thinking of ways to use the potential award grant.
"You can't use the money to buy fancy hats and pretty shirts," Parson jokes, noting that the award grant is monitored to ensure that it used solely to foster replication of recipient programs. "I would love to host an international symposium here in Washington for law-enforcement professionals. That would certainly be covered [by the grant]."
Parson adds that the award money could also be used to produce a training video featuring the GLLU, travel expenses to have members of the unit speak to police in other jurisdictions, or for creating a brochure outlining the GLLU's functions.
Meanwhile, says Fillichio, the Ash Institute has started taking nominations for the 2006 awards. And, he adds, he's hoping that some innovative HIV/AIDS programs will be nominated, as that's a category of program that has been oddly absent from the awards.
"We are actively, aggressively seeking nominees from city, county or state HIV/AIDS programs," Fillichio insists. "There are two real reasons. One, we want to shine the spotlight on [a winning program]. The other reason is that we want a program in ‘City X' to be replicated in cities across the country. The only way people can learn about that is through the Innovations Award. We want other jurisdictions around the world to learn about it, to replicate it."
Concludes Fillichio: "In the past 18 years, these programs have been replicated not just nationally, but internationally. And that's what this is all about."
The Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Governance is accepting nominations for the 2006 Innovations in American Government Awards via the Web at www.innovationsaward.harvard.edu.