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LGBTQ center moves to replace security firm owned by cop accused of racist attack

The Center on Halsted said it will seek a new firm to provide security services that has “experience working directly with LGBTQ people of all ages from a diverse racial, ethnic and socioeconomic background.”

The Rev. Jamie Frazier, lead pastor of the Lighthouse Church of Chicago and founder of the Lighthouse Foundation, outside the Center on Halsted in September.
Jamie Frazier speaks to members of LGBTQ activist group the Lighthouse Foundation Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019 after meeting with Center on Halsted leadership to discuss its security strategies.
Jake Wittich / Sun-Times

The city’s largest LGBTQ center is seeking proposals for new security providers amid criticism of its relationship with a private security firm owned by a Chicago police officer who admitted using a racial slur during a disturbance in 2013 at a Boystown bar.

The Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St., announced its request for proposals during a meeting Saturday with leaders of the Lighthouse Foundation, a black-led, LGBTQ activist group that has called for the center to drop its current firm, Walsh Security. The center provides health and well-being services to 1,000 LGBTQ youth and adults a day, according to its website.

“I believe that we are pushing the needle, so I remain cautiously optimistic,” Lighthouse Foundation founder Jamie Frazier told a group of about 20 supporters who were waiting outside the center after the meeting. “From what we heard today, [the center] seems committed to getting this request for proposals out. I believe they’re going to get somebody new in here.”

Allen Womble, justice team leader at Lighthouse Church of Chicago, leads the Lighthouse Foundation’s Coalition of Allies for Racial Equity on Saturday, during Frazier’s meeting with Center on Halsted leadership to discuss its security.
Allen Womble, justice team leader at Lighthouse Church of Chicago, talks with the Lighthouse Foundation’s Coalition of Allies for Racial Equity on Saturday, as the organization’s leaders met with The Center on Halsted.
Jake Wittich / Sun-Times

Frazier, joined by Lighthouse Foundation members Karlyn Meyer and the Rev. Tim Wolfe, met with Center on Halsted CEO Modesto Tico Valle, board chair Angela Barnes and Chief Program Officer Héctor Torres for an hour Saturday to discuss its security strategies.

The Center on Halsted did not respond to a request for comment, but a copy of its request for proposal states it is seeking a security firm that can “provide trauma-informed security guards with experience working directly with LGBTQ people of all ages from a diverse racial, ethnic and socioeconomic background.”

“The ideal security guard would have experience in working with patrons of diverse mental capacity and those experiencing homelessness,” the request for proposal states.

The Center on Halsted has set a Nov. 1 deadline for interested security firms to apply, but the deadline could be extended if needed, Frazier said he was told during the meeting.

“They want to make sure they have qualified candidates, and the Lighthouse Foundation will remain vigilant to ensure that lots of diverse applicants apply, so that Walsh Security is removed,” Frazier said.

Walsh Security is owned by Town Hall District police Officer Thomas Walsh, who was accused of attacking a black security guard and repeatedly using a racial slur in 2013 while off-duty at the Lucky Horseshoe Lounge in Boystown, records from the city’s former Independent Police Review Authority show.

The center paid Walsh Security more than $130,000 last year, according to IRS filings.

Officer Thomas Walsh.
Officer Thomas Walsh.
City of Chicago

Walsh told IPRA investigators that he never attacked the guard, but acknowledged using “some profanity” and said he regretted using the racial slur.

In 2015, IPRA recommended a 60-day suspension for Walsh from the Chicago Police Department, which he appealed. Four years later, IPRA’s recommendation remains under review by the Chicago Police Department, according to city records.

At a Sept. 19 meeting of the Chicago Police Board, Frazier asked its members to make a decision on Walsh’s appeal and was told by Police Supt. Eddie Johnson that it was his first time hearing of the case.

Frazier said the group plans to speak again at the board’s Oct. 17 meeting.

“[Johnson] heard about this case from three different speakers at the last police board meeting, so now we’re going to ask what progress they’ve made,” Frazier said.