SAN ANTONIO – Sgt. Stephanie Flores wasn’t always protecting our city from criminals and working as the LGBTQ liaison for the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.
She was a club promoter in the gay and lesbian scene prior to joining the Sheriff’s Office, but after awhile, she felt she could do more for her community.
“I felt like I was helping my community in that way and I was trying to guide them in a different direction of feeling a little bit better about themselves, providing a safe space for them to congregate and have fun,” Flores said. “But after awhile, you kind of realize that this can't be your forever job. This is not a career. I wanted to somehow impact my community in a different way, so I chose law enforcement.”
The San Antonio Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office are the bigger agencies locally, so Flores decided she would choose the latter so she could ease her way into law enforcement.
“I was told I would spend two years in the jail, then I would be able to go out and patrol. To me, that was very impactful because it would allow me to acclimate myself to the environment prior to going out into the community and dealing with the same people that I interact with inside the jail but outside in the community now in a different type of environment,” she said.
Flores said her training gave her an edge up on other officers because of the interactions she had in the jail.
“When (former inmates) see me outside the facility, they know me. They know my background. They know my reputation, and they know exactly what I'm about,” she said “So dealing with them is a little bit easier. I think it helps that communication, but also allows them to know that maybe this is not the place you want to come steal from if I'm there.”
Liaison program's beginnings
It was in August 2018 when Flores would take on her role of LGBTQ liaison for BCSO after an appointment from Sheriff Javier Salazar. But she’s no longer the only liaison.
The sheriff appointed more liaisons to serve culturally specific communities, including the African-American, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander and special needs communities, among others.
“The reason this program came to be was — when I spoke with Sheriff Salazar, he said he was already trying to put the program in place. However, we felt that, especially coming upon Pride (Parade) last year, it would be a really good way to impact our community, especially now that we have so many different aspects of the gay community -- LGBTQ-plus,” Flores said.
Flores said the program is more than just about community outreach. It’s a way to assure the LGBTQ community that it’s not alone when dealing with situations that can sometimes be dangerous.
“You have these people come into our facility, and a lot of times, it's very difficult to assess that particular situation, so we wanted to be able to bridge the gap between the police officers and the gay community, LGBT community, and make sure that they know that we're here behind them,” Flores said. “We're not here after them. We want to make sure they feel safe just as any other part of the community.”
Flores said day-to-day, she works with LGBTQ organizations to be a point of contact for the Sheriff's Office. She said she coordinates being part of the Pride Parade for BCSO and asks organizations if they'd like for BCSO to be present.
But she said it's more than just being present. The Sheriff's Office asks community members if there's a bigger need for law enforcement in their area and just asks general questions to make sure they feel safe.
Flores said she was born in 1978 and it wasn't easy for her to come out earlier in life, and she thinks things have changed significantly since then for the better. She said the program has had good response and has even helped her in situations that she's never been through.
“I'm learning, and I need to know how to interact. I need to know that I can't address someone that's transitioning as ‘he’ or ‘she’ if they're transitioning from male to female. I need to figure out how they identify, so that's a big thing that we're going through right now. We're trying to incorporate that training with our officers, as well,” she said. “If we end up having a transgender or gay or lesbian inmate or criminal or maybe just a victim, that's where I would come in to kind of make sure that they feel like there's someone there on their side.”
Future of the program
The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has been in talks with the Pride Center of San Antonio to incorporate its training with the force to better serve the LGBTQ community.
Flores said she sees the program blossoming to help other communities and better understand their needs.
“We started off with one, which was myself, and it grew into 11. And now we're branching out. We've branched out into (helping) animals. We have an animal rights activist, or a liaison, so it just can go in so many different directions, Flores said. “And especially as (the LGBTQ) community is also expanding in different aspects, we also have to expand within that community.”
For more South Texas Pride stories, visit KSAT.com/SouthTexasPride.