National Police Week in Washington, D.C. normally means a fun week full of police-themed dance parties for people affiliated and unaffiliated with the force. The week has a lot more meaning to those serving their communities and their families.
One of the significant events of the week is the Candlelight Vigil. It takes place on May 13 every year and recognizes all of the fallen officers from the year before by etching their names into the wall of The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial at Judiciary Square in Washington, D.C. It is during this week that Concerns for Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) also hold a series of seminars and support groups helping and honoring the families and loved ones of the fallen men and women in blue.
Through the years there has been an important group of individuals that have been left out of the memorials. This is why Sterling Spangler started the “Invisible Survivors,” which gives the much needed and deserved recognition to the partners and loved ones of LGBT officers killed in the line of duty.
Scott Gunn, along with partner Charger Stone, of The D.C. Bear Crue has been in on the action for the past eight years. They hold such events as Donuts for Dollars, and CopCakes for a Cause. Gunn has made it a personal quest to honor as many LGBT officers as he can find.
After holding a memorial service for a lesbian Miami Dade officer last year and seeing what it did for her family, Gunn once again started researching officers and came across Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers. Rogers was a lesbian officer in Aiken, South Carolina killed in the line of duty January 28, 2012 and buried the day before her and her partner’s 27-year anniversary. As if losing your partner of 27 years is not enough, Frances Williams has gotten very little recognition for what she meant to Rogers and their life together.
I hope one day it will not be so taboo that people will frown upon or shun someone’s life partner,” says Alethea Spann, friend of Rogers and Williams. “Here in South Carolina we had an award ceremony for Sandy, and Frances was told to go home because she was not immediate family.”
It is exactly this reason that Gunn has teamed up with Protect and Serve that honors surviving partners of military, fire department and police to hold this ceremony.
Rogers and Williams started dating a year after Rogers joined the Aiken Police Department. “We just clicked,” Williams explains.
After a wonderful friendship and even going on double dates together, they finally became official a year later. They still had to hide their relationship for at least 10 more years. Williams says they never even came out officially because people just knew.
“We were very respectful of other people. We were very private. We didn’t force our relationship on anybody,” says Williams. “We got together in South Carolina in the ’80s and we were a biracial couple as well. We had a lot of cards stacked against us. At one point, Sandy was told she would not get promoted as long as she was with me. We went through hell.”
Rogers is described as being full of love and a mother hen to the many officers she mentored.
“Sandy loved her family. She loved Frances. She loved her job and she loved God,” Spann says. “She was the person I called every night whether she was working night shift or day shift and talked to before I went to bed. She was the big sister I never had.”
Before Roger’s death, two other officers were killed in Aiken all within the span of two months. At another officer’s funeral, someone came up to Sandy and asked, “What do we do now?” to which she replied, “We go on.” It was Sandy’s encouraging words that became the slogan for the Aiken police force and their supporters. “We Go On” was even put on t-shirts that were sold to raise funds for the department’s trip to National Police Week last year.
“When an officer dies with a wife and kids, they are recognized. When a gay officer dies, many people may not even know that they had a partner. If they do, they do not get recognized the way that they should,” Gunn explains. “Every year I keep saying I’m not going to do this anymore. It’s very emotional and long, but then I hear stories like Frances and Sandy’s and that keeps me going. That is why I do what I do.”
Scott Gunn holds many events that can be found at www.lgbtpoliceweek.com along with sponsors like Barefoot Wine, Aquafest Cruises and Scruff. Gunn explains that the most challenging part of his work is simply finding fallen LGBT officers. He asks that if anyone would like to help in this mission or knows of any officers that deserve this recognition, to reach out to him. He wants to honor as many heroes as he can find.
The Memorial Service will be held Monday, May 13 at 12 p.m. at Dupont Circle. It will be the first chance for Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers and loved ones to be honored and get the recognition they deserve.
As for Williams and other loved ones, they will be at the memorial service ready to receive that love and the support from the community that they deserve.
“She needs this,” says Gunn. “She needs to be here and she needs to be with us. She needs this.”