Austin is the latest city to launch ‘Safe Place’ program to provide refuge to LGBTQ+ community

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Members of the Austin LGBTQ+ community will now have “Safe Places” to go to report hate crimes and harassment.

The Austin Police Department is the latest in over 200 law enforcement groups in the country to launch the “Safe Place” program, a movement which utilizes businesses to provide asylum to victims.

Businesses in Austin fill out a voluntary application and will receive a rainbow sticker to place on their door to mark their building. The business will then have the authority to provide refuge, call 911 and comfort the victims until police arrive.

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said these types of crimes are typically under-reported due to fear and mistrust between victims and the police.

Chief Manley said the January attack on a gay couple in downtown Austin sparked a sense of urgency within his department. He wants to ensure all hate crimes are being property reported.

“We want victims of hate crimes to come forward and know that APD is there for them in this time of need,” Chief Manley said. “As these stickers start spreading throughout our community and become very prevalent, I think it will be better understood how much we support our entire community, including the LGBTQ+ community here in Austin.”

Halcyon, a coffee and cocktail bar in downtown Austin, is the first “Safe Space” in the city.

“Austin isn’t immune to a lot of the bigotry and hatred that people see,” said Cameron Hudgens, the barista manager at Halcyon. “You see it more often than you’d like to admit, especially when you go out on the town.”

Related: Attack on gay men a hate crime, APD’s new team investigates violence

This announcement comes the same week as two mass shootings in the country and days before Pride weekend. Austin Pride is working with police to ensure safety for all.

“They know every move we make, they have all of our contingency plans, they have all of our safety plans, they have access to it all,” said Micah Andress, the president of Austin Pride.

A Facebook post by Austin Pride said security includes surveillance drones, undercover officers and SWAT. Chief Manley also mentioned other security tactics which may not be apparent.

“There will be things behind the scenes that will not be seen but will be there to ensure that we can pull this off in the safest manner possible as we do year after year,” Chief Manley said.

If you are a business owner who wants to turn your establishment into a “Safe Place,” you can fill out an application with the Austin Police. An officer will stop by and provide the necessary materials.

Other groups present during the ceremony were representatives from various city council seats, the Hate Crimes Task Force, the Travis County district attorney’s office, PRIDE, the LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce and the Mexican Consulates Office.

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