I think I may have become too confident about law enforcement’s evolution around understanding and accepting LGBT colleagues. I would have thought that with those serving our communities with a charge of upholding the Constitution by being objective, fair, and equal would have, by now, a basic understanding that you can’t “make someone gay.” But I have recently been proven wrong. The ignorance around these very basic issues remains and continues to fuel homophobia even in law enforcement. Let me share a story I heard just this week.
An aspiring law enforcement officer who has been affiliated with a department from a young age recently came out and had the courage to share his sexuality with trusted mentors. He described the experience as being one of the most difficult things he has ever done in his life. He told me that he feared losing his valued mentor and being excluded from a job in the career he so loved. At first, his mentor seemed accepting, but after word got out in the department about this young applicant, the mentor’s tune changed quickly. He told the young man who looked up to him, I know you were “turned gay” by someone and if you want to work in “this” department, you need to not be gay. This came from someone who supposedly loves this young man like a son. The mentor went on to claim that even the agency executives advised that he shouldn’t chose to be gay if he wants to work for the department. Keep in mind that this is in a state with broad and inclusive employment protection that specifically prohibits discrimination in hiring and employment based on sexual orientation. This is a law enforcement agency, the entity we depend on to protect our Constitutional Rights and to enforce the law, openly representing that they would not accept a gay applicant. Of course, the applicant could pursue a complaint and a law suit, but we all know that would still result in his not being hired. What dumbfounds me is the notion that law enforcement officers with even a basic education could, today, possibly still think another person can “make” someone gay. Really? If you are one of those straight people who believes this, think about it for just a few minutes. Could you imagine someone having the influence and ability to “turn you” gay? Your sexuality is not a choice. Straight or gay, it is how you were born. No one can make anyone gay. And if you feel that when someone comes out to you on their own accord that somehow as the recipient of this information you are responsible for “turning them gay,” all I can say is that you could not be more wrong. I thought there was enough exposure out there to have moved us passed this ignorance, but apparently we still need more education and discussion.
For those of you in the know, like me, you are probably questioning the continued value of this mentor in this young person’s life. That is not for anyone to determine except this young man. The real problem here is that we have a law enforcement agency operating out there with a culture that has openly rejected someone who was acceptable growing up as a teen while perceived to be straight, but who is now unwelcome now that he has come out as gay. It might be easy to say, “well just go apply somewhere else… there are plenty of departments who accept gay officers.” And while that may become this young man’s destiny, it doesn’t make it right nor does it make it at all acceptable. Law enforcement agencies like the one in this story desperately need strong leadership and lots of training and exposure to alleviate this ignorance and liability. As citizens, we have a right to expect that officers who show up to serve us have at least this basic understanding of humanity. I can’t imagine calling 9-1-1 and have someone so homophobic, judgmental and ignorant show up in my time of need.
What this story has reminded me of is that homophobia continues to be a pervasive and destructive force in law enforcement. There is still much work to be done and it will take the kind of courage the young man in this story has shown to create an awareness and a subsequent discussion about gay people that already exist within our ranks. It will also take communities stepping up and not tolerating this kind of attitude and ignorance from those who are paid to serve, especially those in law enforcement; it is simply unacceptable. I applaud agencies like Portland Police Department and Seattle Police Department for publishing just this month their own “It Gets Better” videos. This is a strong message to those agencies who lag way behind that we are here in 2012, not 1972.
Seriously… do you really think you can make someone gay?