Acting Sergeant Ben Bjarnesen (pictured right) is both an LGBTI Liaison officer in the Queensland Police Service and a member of the LGBTIQ community. QN Magazine recently spoke to Ben about why he became an LGBTI Liaison Officer and how the volunteer role has allowed him to make a difference to members of the community.
What is the specific role of an LGBTI Liaison Officer?
LGBTI Liaison Officers are there to build relationships with local agencies associated with LGBTI communities, including attending LGBTI events. We can provide advice and support to LGBTI people requesting assistance and support investigations and other police incidents that involve an LGBTI person.
We also improve awareness of LGBTI community needs to other members of the Police Service and assist community crime reduction officers to develop strategies for effective responses to issues affecting LGBTI communities.
How did you come to fill the role?
I became a liaison officer in 2010 when I was stationed out in Roma. I had only just recently “come out” and knew all too well the challenges faced by LGBTI people living in rural and remote areas.
I saw becoming a liaison officer as a great opportunity to assist and support members of LGBTI communities living in those areas to feel more comfortable and safe in reporting any matters to Police.
What assistance can you offer members of the LGBTIQ community and in what circumstance should members of the community specifically ask to speak to a Liaison Officer or make a Liaison Officer their first point of contact?
While LGBTI people are able to speak to any police officer, we understand that some people may be hesitant to contact police especially if means they have to reveal their sexuality or gender identity.
As a result, it may be easier for them to contact an LGBTI Liaison Officer as they know the officer has received specific training in LGBTI awareness and supporting members of LGBTI communities. LGBTI Liaison Officers may also assist with referrals to LGBTI specific support services.
Do you feel your work as a LGBTI Liaison Officer helps breaks down barriers between our community and the Queensland Police Service?
I believe the work we are doing as liaison officers definitely makes a difference. Ever since I started in the role in 2010 I have seen an enormous positive shift in attitudes towards the police and believe this is largely due to the hard work and dedication that LGBTI liaison officers put in engaging with members of LGBTI communities and the services that support them.
The work of the LGBTI Support Network has also been greatly beneficial with initiatives such as the “It Gets Better” video, participation in the pride march and events such as IDAHOBIT Day and Wear it Purple Day.
What progress is being made on the historically high level of under-reporting of crime by the LGBTIQ community?
While progress is being made, like any other organisation we are constantly learning about how we can do things better. In Brisbane Region we have recently established a Community Consultative Group with 18 LGBTI Community Support organisations.
The aim of the group is to build relationships, increase understanding and ensuring effective communications between the Queensland Police Services and organisations influential in LGBTI communities.
Initiatives such as this have the ability to increase community confidence in the police service which may result in LGBTI people being more willing in reporting crimes and domestic violence.
Can you share stories of incidents where you felt your role as a liaison officer made a real difference to a community member?
I have worked in the Fortitude Valley Division for over 6 years now and in that time, I have attended a number of incidents where I’ve assisted an LGBTI person who has been contemplating suicide.
One of those in particular stands out to me. I located a young gay guy standing on the edge of a bridge contemplating jumping off.
He was distraught and as he was in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. Having previously been through a similar relationship myself I was able to really understand what he was going through and the challenges that he faced. I talked to him about domestic violence, the support that was available and how there was so much to look forward to in his life.
After chatting for a while he came back from the railing and came with me to speak to a mental health professional. A few days later I received an email from him thanking me for my help and letting me know that he was now looking at a brighter future.
In a separate incident, I recently had guy come to me who had ended a long-distance relationship with a male who lived in New Zealand.
He felt like there was nothing he could do since the other guy was not in Australia, but after enduring threats of harm and abusive text messages for a number of months and constantly living in fear, he reported the matter to me.
I was able to work together with Interpol and the Australian Federal Police which resulted in the male being dealt with by New Zealand Police and preventing him from making any further contact with the victim.
He told me that he had been anxious and living in fear for months and now as a result of the investigation and police action, he was feeling 100 percent better and was able to get on with his life without always having to look over his shoulder.
When he first came into the police station I could see how stressed and anxious he was so to have the ability to help him get his life back to normal again was a great feeling.
In an emergency call Triple Zero (000). LGBTI community members can report any issue to any police officer. To speak with an LGBTI Liaison Officer, advise the officer taking your complaint or call PoliceLink on 131 444.
If you need someone to talk to, help is available from Lifeline on 13 11 14 or QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au.