21st Century Policing Forum: In “Protecting the Rights of LGBTQ+ People” Outcomes are What Make All of the Difference

One phrase that I have been surprised to hear again and again is “outputs are not outcomes.” At first I was confused by the implication of the sentence and found it difficult to understand its meaning. The most recent time I heard the phrase I was at a forum on gender, sexuality, and 21st century policing titled “Protecting the Rights of LGBTQ+ People.”

The forum included a panel of LGBTQ+ activists and allied law enforcement agents. These experts acknowledged many tensions that currently exist between the LGBTQ+ community and law enforcement agencies, as well as exchanging personal stories and experiences. Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason summed the purpose of the meeting up well when she said, “Equal rights and equal treatment do not always go hand in hand.” She utilized the examples of verbal abuse and mistreatment in jail toward LGBTQ+ people. These harms are just a small sampling of even larger problems between the LGBTQ+ community and law enforcement.

Over the past decade, law enforcement agents have consistently been among the top three categories of perpetrators of homophobic or transphobic violence against LGBT people. Additionally, the 2015 LGBT Health and Human Services Needs Assessment conducted in New York State found one in five transgender respondents (21 percent) had been unfairly arrested, harassed, or physically harmed, with higher rates for transgender people of color (31 percent).1 When working with these statistics, as Johnathan Smith, Senior Counsel in the Office of the Assistant Attorney General, put it, “we must respond with empathy, unity, and of course, action.”

During the course of the forum, that is just what the panelists tried to do. They spent a large portion of time looking at the challenges faced during police interactions with the LGBTQ+ community in the hopes of better understanding some ultimate solutions. Challenges identified ranged from the difficulties in building trust, to implicit and explicit biases, to the lack of ability to acquire comprehensive data. One of the greatest challenges recognized was in fact the lack of solution. For instance, one cannot simply ask someone at a police stop if they are gay or transgender without being offensive. Similarly, hate crimes toward LGBTQ+ people frequently go unreported. These two underlying issues may leave one to wonder “what can be done to acquire data on LGBTQ+ police encounters?” As unsatisfying as the answer is, it is clear that there is no tell-all solution.

However, the lack of solution did not stop the panelists from discussing potential solutions to similar problems. For instance, many police biases can be combated by integration and exposure. By promoting programs such as a transgender person teaching and training recruits directly or having an LGBTQ+ person complete a ride-along with officers, the officers can make personal connections that may relieve some implicit biases. Other solutions that were discussed included acknowledgement in the form of an apology when needed, as well as in the form of recognizing the preconceived notions and prejudices that exist.

The hours of discussion were filled with concrete examples and touching stories. Those accounts, coupled with talk about solutions to barriers, led me to finally grasp the difference between the words that have remained in my head for so long. Outputs are the “what we do” or the “who we reach,” in this case referring to training or policies in place for law enforcement. However, outcomes are the impact or the “what is the result.” As the forum frequently mentioned, we cannot simply solve issues by training alone. Training must be accompanied by knowledge, awareness, and ultimately action. It is both ineffective and dangerous to stop at outputs rather than outcomes. In regards to LGBTQ+ interactions with law enforcement, the outcomes are what make all of the difference.

Rebecca Fallk
Special Contributor
The COPS Office


1 Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities in the United States in 2010 (New York: National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 2011). http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/Reports/2011_NCAVP_HV_Reports.pdf.

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