“You’d Just Cop Flak From Every Other Dickhead Under the Sun”: Navigating the Tensions of (In)visibility and Hypervisibility in LGBTI Police Liaison Programs in Three Australian States

Published date01 May 2020
Date01 May 2020
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17IQ2DNN2a7w3u/input 894420CCJXXX10.1177/1043986219894420Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeDwyer and Ball
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2020, Vol. 36(2) 274 –292
“You’d Just Cop Flak From
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
Every Other Dickhead Under
DOI: 10.1177/1043986219894420
the Sun”: Navigating the
Tensions of (In)visibility and
Hypervisibility in LGBTI
Police Liaison Programs in
Three Australian States
Angela Dwyer1 and Matthew J. Ball2
This article examines the different ways that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and
intersex (LGBTI) police liaison officers in three states of Australia conceptualized
and problematized the public visibility of LGBTI police liaison services. In a climate
where LGBTI police liaison services are a prominent model for building relationships
between police and LGBTI people, this article considers, through interview data with
LGBTI police liaison officers, these officers’ perceptions of the role that the visibility
of these programs played in their success. Specifically, it explores the tensions and
difficulties for officers and LGBTI communities resulting from the general invisibility
of liaison officers themselves (and, by extension, these programs), as well as the
problems that increased visibility of these programs might bring to officers, to LGBTI
communities, and to policing work itself. Although enhancing the visibility of liaison
services may be an important goal, this research suggests that careful consideration
is required regarding how this visibility is produced and maintained, particularly given
the concerns that officers reported about the potential risks posed by adopting
new forms of visibility, including the risk of hypervisibility. This article questions the
1University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia
2Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
Corresponding Author:
Angela Dwyer, School of Social Science, College of Arts, Law and Education, University of Tasmania,
Private Bag 22, Hobart, Tasmania 7005, Australia.
Email: angela.dwyer@utas.edu.au

Dwyer and Ball
conventional view that increased visibility is unproblematic and is the key to the
success of such programs.
police, LGBTI, liaison programs, visibility, invisibility, hypervisibility, heteronormativity,
There is no doubt that, across much of the Western world, relationships between police
and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI)1 people have been his-
torically problematic due to the criminalization of sodomy, cross-dressing, and the
discriminatory policing practices associated with them (Ball, 2016; Dwyer, 2014;
Ford, 2008; Peterson & Panfil, 2014; Tomsen, 2009). Police work was (and arguably
sometimes still is) informed by assumptions—often shared by the general public—
about the perceived immorality of LGBTI people, and the related view that they
required stringent, and often violent, regulation (Dwyer, 2011; Jones, 2015; Mallory
et al., 2015; Willett, 2008). In recent times, however, there have been significant shifts
in how the public, and indeed police, think about and respond to LGBTI people. This
is evidenced in the resources police organizations have invested in rebuilding relation-
ships with LGBTI people (Dwyer & Tomsen, 2015; Field, 2007; Gillespie, 2008;
Miles-Johnson, 2016; Pickles, 2019; Tomsen, 2009). Of course, these initiatives do not
necessarily mean that police now unreservedly protect LGBTI people—LGBTI peo-
ple still experience police violence in the contemporary moment (Russell, 2016, 2019).
But police organizations around the world are seeking to address these issues through
concentrated relationship-building efforts.
Visibility appears to be a crucial component of these forms of relationship building
between police and LGBTI communities, particularly as a way of increasing the
awareness of these programs among LGBTI people (Pickles, 2019). When we talk
about visibility, we mean how someone or something is able to be seen and observed—
it is about see-ability, noticeability, perceptibility, and viewability. Different strategies
are used to increase the visibility of positive interactions between policing organiza-
tions and LGBTI communities, such as having visible police contingents in major
LGBTI events, including marching in uniform in annual Pride parades and having a
stall with representatives of police organizations and police cars and bikes at such
events (Russell, 2016, 2019). Given the contemporary shift toward community polic-
ing initiatives, these moves are unsurprising and have achieved some success.
A key component in improving the relations between LGBTI communities and
police and supporting LGBTI victims of crime is LGBTI police liaison programs.
Many police organizations internationally now have a dedicated liaison program for
LGBTI people (Gillespie, 2008; Russell, 2019). In the Australian context—the focus
of this article—these programs have been implemented in a somewhat uneven way,

Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 36(2)
driven by state police services themselves, and with different levels of investment by
senior leadership within those organizations and the LGBTI communities that they
serve, leading to slight differences in how programs operate around the country.
However, generally speaking, police officers (whether they identify as LGBTI or not)
volunteer to be part of these programs (in addition to their other responsibilities as
police officers) and are provided with specialized training about LGBTI issues to sup-
port them in undertaking this role (Tobler, 2006). These specially trained officers are
available when an LGBTI person wants to speak to a police officer for informal advice,
providing a key form of frontline support for LGBTI people. Interestingly, while we
have evidence that LGBTI people know of the existence of liaison officers, rarely do
they access the support provided by these officers (Berman & Robinson, 2010).
Moreover, we know that LGBTI people who do access liaison services feel more sup-
ported than when they access general police (Bourne et al., 2010; Leonard et al., 2008),
and that these liaison units are having an overall positive impact upon police relation-
ships with LGBTI people (Colvin, 2012). Yet, we continue to have little other research
evidence with which to evaluate the effectiveness of these forms of relationship build-
ing (Colvin, 2012). In the absence of such evidence, officers and community advo-
cates rely on assumptions about what is working and what could be improved to
enhance the effectiveness of these programs. One such assumption is that greater vis-
ibility of the program and liaison officers themselves is key to the success of liaison
programs (hence the advertising of the program in community magazines, the police
presence at community events and venues, and the frustration expressed by some offi-
cers that their role is invisible and such invisibility hampers their effectiveness). It is
this assumption that we explore in further detail here.
This article examines the results of research exploring LGBTI police liaison ser-
vices across three states in Australia (Queensland [QLD], New South Wales [NSW],
and Western Australia [WA]), which sought to understand what stops LGBTI people
from seeking support from liaison officers. During their interviews for this study,
LGBTI police liaison officers provided significant insights into other aspects of
these programs, and key among these is the importance of, and complexities sur-
rounding, the visibility of these programs. This visibility is positioned by interview-
ees as a central aspect of the program’s (potential) success, but also a source of
potential risk. The article first discusses the theoretical framework informing the
understanding of visibility in this context and the analysis of the interview data, fol-
lowed by an outline of the methodology employed for this project. It then examines
the key themes emerging from the interviews with LGBTI police liaison officers.
Finally, the key implications of our findings for policy and practice development in
police and LGBTI community services are discussed. This study is original as it
focuses attention on this kind of visibility, its implications, and its complexities in
attempts to enhance LGBTI police liaison programs. It brings together the issues of
recognition, visibility, and normativity (discussed below) to complicate calls to sim-
ply increase the visibility of liaison services, and to think in different ways about
how these services can be enhanced.

Dwyer and Ball
What Do We Mean by Visibility?
Visibility is a core concept underpinning the analysis in this article. It is central in
some respects to the operation of liaison programs because they assume a particular
kind of visibility on behalf of LGBTI people. The act of approaching a liaison officer
is, itself, making one visible as an LGBTI person. These programs require that LGBTI
communities “become visible before the law [so they] can access protection” (Moran
& Skeggs, 2004, p. 5).
Visibility is, in some cases, desirable. For example, seeking to enhance one’s
visibility can be a reaction to the legal and social exclusion of LGBTI people, and
the subsequent invisibility that this produces—as it is in the...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT