It’s a cryptic title, but accurately describes the date fourteen years ago that I took a huge risk that ended up being life-changing in all respects. For many of us who didn’t come out as a teenager, the day is one you don’t forget. I liken it to a re-birth of sorts. For me, my coming out was the single most significant life-changing experience of my near 55 years on earth. Nothing has been the same since and I continue to talk and write about it in hopes that anyone, male or female, who is living life in a closet will consider taking a risk and come out.
I won’t recount the entire story, because I have it available in detail in my books. But I will share some thoughts about coming out in 2018 and why it is still so important especially while working in law enforcement. If you are familiar with my writing in the books and on the website, this might sound familiar, but it’s worth repeating and rethinking. Just like a good hostage negotiator, continuing to offer negotiations, a way out of the situation, is the key to eventually resolving the situation. I think being in the closet is much like a hostage situation, but as the one in the closet, you are both hostage and hostage taker. The good news is that you are in full control of when and where you give up.
Living life in the closet is truly living a lie. It’s impractical and unrealistic to think that you can keep your personal and professional life separate and apart for an entire career. It doesn’t work in most professions and it certainly doesn’t work well in law enforcement. At some point, talk about and exposure to your personal life is going to happen at work. It may begin with a casual and friendly inquiry, such as, “what did you do this weekend?” Maybe it will be more direct, “so are you seeing anyone?” Such questions posed to someone in the closet offer a choice to either be honest or to lie.
Being dishonest in matters about your personal life isn’t the same as not telling the truth on the stand under oath, but the impact on you personally and professionally can eventually end up in the same place. Truth and honesty are pounded into us as recruits from the beginning of our training. We witness colleagues being fired for dishonesty and we feel the disgrace that comes from a lie. The stress from even a “white lie” about our personal lives can mount and impact us physically. It’s truly no fun.
In 2018, I think the risk to an officer who lies about who they are is greater than that from coming out and being openly non-heterosexual. In every state, you can legally be fired as a peace officer for being dishonest, but at least in most states, employment protections based on sexuality are in place. Times are changing and there are thousands of “out” gay and lesbians working in law enforcement. It’s not as big a deal as it once was back when I started in the late 1970’s. Aside from the professional risks, being in the closet creates limits on your life and for what, a job? You deserve 100% happiness in your personal life and I’m here to tell you that it is entirely possible to realize.
I will always be grateful to the guy I first came out to. He was truly wonderful and supportive. As I look back today 14 years ago at the agony I was in and how worried I was about taking the risk, I am reminded about how much I under-estimated my friends and family. I’m also reminded about how much better my life is today and I continue to wish that for all of my LGBTQ+ colleagues in law enforcement. My only regret is that I waited so long to start living my life honestly and authentically.
I’ve made changing the culture of law enforcement a focus of my work so that some day, writing encouraging posts like this one won’t be necessary. If you need help coming out, reach out to us on the website at comingoutfrombehindthebadge.com.