June 9 2010 12:00 AM

It’s fantastic to have another incredible pride season before us. It has become a fixture of the Lansing community, helping our economy, strengthening the bonds of community and healing old wounds of misunderstanding and bias.

But even though Pride is a season of celebration, it is important to remember that your safety comes first. That means the obvious — don’t drink too much, don’t drink and drive, don’t use illegal drugs, do engage in safer sex — but there others areas that may not be so obvious.

Pride season brings a lot of attention on the gay community and Old Town, and sadly there are some in this community who have issues with the presence of LGBT people. Several years ago, we had a couple of men driving around Old Town before Pride and shooting patrons of Esquire with darts. Because the community was aware, they called the police and the LPD was able to not only arrest the men involved, but secure a successful prosecution. Just a few years ago, we had some young people who were quite drunk spray paint "kill gays" all over Old Town. Those young men were also arrested and successfully prosecuted, but more importantly Old Town pulled together to say hate was unwelcome in the community then as it is now.

Sadly, saying hate is not welcome is not going to make it stay away. That’s why this Pride we are asking you to be careful. Follow some common sense safety procedures to keep yourself, your friends and your community safe.

First, be aware of your surroundings. If something does not feel right, it probably isn’t. Note suspicious cars, and behavior. Note the clothes people are wearing, any tattoos or other things that might make them stand out and what they have in their hands.

Secondly, don’t leave the bars or events alone. Walk with friends or in small groups to your cars.

And finally, don’t just leave with someone you have just met. That message can be extended to the online world as well. Some one may appear friendly in an online chat, but that doesn’t mean they are.

If you do decide to go with some one you have just met, tell your friends where you are going and get that person’s telephone number and give it to your friends.

These may sound like silly ideas, but it’s important to remember that rape, sexual assault or violence can happen to anyone. We know it is happening in the Lansing area, and we know that many people who have been victimized may feel helpless and afraid to come forward. You don’t have anything to be ashamed about if you have been the victim of sexual assault or an anti-gay assault, and you are not alone. The Lansing Police Department is ready and willing to help you.

In fact, Lansing Police have announced the appointment of a liaison to the LGBT community, Detective Michelle Bryant. You can reach her at (517) 483-4817.

If you follow these simple rules of thumb, your pride celebrations will be safe and fun.

—Todd Heywood, Lansing Captain Ray Hall Lansing Police Deptartment