DETROIT -- When Dani Woods graduated from the Detroit Police Academy in 2001, she had no idea she would eventually become a pioneer in the LGBTQ+ community as a member of the Detroit Police Department.
But 20 years later, corporal Woods is doing just that with her trailblazing work as the first-ever Detroit Police Department LGBTQ+ Liaison, as she strives to create a better relationship between the DPD and the LGBTQ+ community throughout the city.
And because of her tireless work in the LGBTQ+ community, Woods is being celebrated by the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers as the first Pride Month Game Changers honoree.
Video: Game Changers Round Table | Pride | Comerica Bank
Previously, the Red Wings and Comerica Bank have celebrated Game Changers for Black History Month and Women's Appreciation Month, and now the Wings are joining forces with the Tigers to celebrate Pride Month throughout June to honor and celebrate men and women throughout Detroit doing extraordinary work to ensure equality and inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community.
"We're excited to now share the stories of amazing local Game Changers across both Red Wings and Tigers platforms, beginning with Pride Month," said Red Wings and Tigers director of community impact Kevin Brown. "The individuals celebrated this month provide access, opportunity and year-round support to young people in our community who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer."
In her role as Detroit Police Department LGBTQ+ Liaison, Woods is the department's foremost advocate for the LGBTQ+ community by training her fellow officers on proper responses to LGBTQ+ issues that spark neighborhood dialog.
She also she serves on Detroit mayor Mike Duggan's citywide LGBT task force, chairs the LGBTQ community council and she proudly represents the DPD by walking as the department's flagbearer in the annual Motor City Pride Parade.
While her official role began in 2013, Woods' journey to becoming an LGBTQ+ Liaison began in 2005 when she and a fellow officer responded to a domestic disturbance between two females, and her partnering officer made an insensitive comment that struck a nerve.
After the dispute was resolved, Woods spoke privately with her male counterpart and explained how discriminatory his comments were and how he could've better handled the situation.
The exchange sparked an idea for Woods, and she began investigating ways to incorporate her ideas and experiences into officer training sessions to educate her fellow officers.
"I made myself more visible and started attending way more community events and finding out what the community wanted from the police department," Woods said. "So I partnered with one of our local organizations and we set up a training and my idea was that they will conduct the training and I would kind of translate it into the officer language."
Woods' ideas came to fruition and she's been building the training curriculum and expanding her role as LGBTQ+ Liaison for more than eight years.
Woods said her favorite part of her job is simply helping people like herself throughout her hometown.
"It sounds so corny, but actually helping someone and having someone say, 'thank you for helping me.,'" Woods said. "That is the greatest feeling because that's why I do it. I want to genuinely help in whatever way I can. To know that someone reached out to me and I was able to assist them is what keeps me going."
Woods said she relishes her role as an LGBTQ+ Liaison because she didn't have anyone in a similar position to look up to when she was growing up.
"It's paramount because I didn't have that as a kid," Woods said. "I didn't have an officer that was courageously out and proud. I want to be that for them. It's important because they have dreams and aspirations, and their orientation or identity should not stifle them to not pursue their dreams. And if their dream is becoming a law enforcement officer or anything for that matter, visibility is important."
Brown said Woods is the definition of a Game Changer as someone who's making a difference in the community each and every day.
"As the Detroit Police Department's first LGBTQ+ Liaison, corporal Woods has provided Detroit with unparalleled connectivity to ensure LGBTQ+ awareness, sensitivity and competency continues to be at the forefront of interactions between local law enforcement and the community," Brown said. "Corporal Woods' commitment to building upon this work every day is truly inspirational."
The lifelong Detroit resident said she's humbled to receive recognition for her work from two of the most influential organizations in the city.
"It's a great honor. I was shocked actually," Woods said. "You never know who's watching or who's paying attention, and I don't do this for accolades or anything like that. It's about the people.
"And because I live this life as well, it's more than just my job. To receive this honor, I was blown away to the point where I was teary-eyed. Such great organizations, the Red Wings and the Tigers and little old me, little east side Detroit girl that just tries to do her part. It really warmed my heart. It gave me validation in knowing that I'm doing something right."
Woods said she appreciates the Game Changers program shining a light on hardworking people like herself, which could potentially open doors for others in the LGBTQ+ community to pursue their dreams.
"I think it's great," Woods said emphatically. "It's phenomenal because for that LGBTQ+ kid that feels like they'll never be able to do something because of who they are or who they love, to see people highlighted, it gives them a sense of hope. And for these organizations to recognize people that are putting in work to create a better environment is phenomenal."
And while Woods has continued building her role throughout the last several years, she said there's still a lot of work to be done.
"The next couple years, I'm hoping that a lot of the initiatives that myself along with the LGBTQ community council are working on are implemented. So that our community is kind of everywhere in a sense of visibility and equality. And I know it's not going to happen overnight, but this should be the blueprint of how we operate.
"It's my hope that other LGBTQ community members sign up to be police officers and add to the movement of actually creating change and being part of it."