Ahead of Coming Out Day, NJ counties prove their support of LGBTQ
For the first time ever, a pride flag is flying over the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office building in Freehold.
It'll do so through Oct. 11, which is recognized each year as National Coming Out Day.
"I want members of the LGBTQ community to feel that if they need help, that they can call on law enforcement, and know that they'll be treated with dignity and respect in times of crisis," said Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey.
Linskey on Wednesday led a press conference to announce the launch of two initiatives meant to improve relations between law enforcement and individuals who are gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning their sexual orientation or identity.
Safe Place is the program that will be most visible to residents. Through it, businesses and organizations can post specially-designed bright logos in their entrances to let victims of bias or hate crimes know that their establishment can be used as a temporary safe haven.
"Any person who believes that they are a victim of a bias or hate crime can enter an establishment with one of our logos to call for help," Linskey said. "The person in need of help will also know that those who respond to help them will treat them with care and dignity."
The program will start as a pilot "very shortly" in Red Bank, Asbury Park and Long Branch, before expanding countywide, according to Linskey.
"Everyone should always feel like they have a safe place to turn to, and we fully support this community effort to look after each other and to report bias incidents and crimes," said Long Branch Mayor John Pallone.
The prosecutor's office, which may be the first county agency in New Jersey to adopt Safe Place, was permitted to do so by the Seattle Police Department, which first introduced Safe Place in 2015. MCPO became the 293rd agency in the U.S., Canada and Europe to launch a version of the program.
Safe Place is already running in select New Jersey municipalities, including Morristown and Highland Park.
The prosecutor's office has also launched its own LGBTQ+ law enforcement liaison program — eight staffers are on the roster, serving as a connection point between the police and the LGBTQ+ community.
Dozens of these liaisons already exist across the Garden State. Several will be on hand for a National Coming Out Day event in Morris County on Saturday.
A part of Court Street in Morristown will be closed for the inaugural event from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Detective Supervisor Stephanie Merced, a liaison within the prosecutor's office, said the event will feature speakers, music, food, and resources for LGBTQ+ attendees.
"It's still a struggle for a lot of people," Merced said about revealing one's sexual orientation to another person. "It can be as simple as holding your partner's hand or coming to an event like this."
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.