I met Officer John Reinert on July 25, 2012 at a training program we participated in for the command staff at the San Jose, California, Police Department. Chief Chris Moore wanted to address the homophobia within the department and arranged for a panel of gay law enforcement officers to talk with the entire 60 plus member command staff. Officer Reinert was there video taping the program. I remember meeting him; his deep voice, huge smile and confident handshake. One of the officers participating on the panel was also with San Jose PD and one of only two male officers of over 1000 at the time who was “out.” After the training, John approached us, thanked us, and told the other San Jose officer that he would like to meet up for lunch sometime.
Well, they did meet for lunch and after witnessing the discussion at the training, John came out for the first time as a gay man. He was 56 years old and for the first time able to share his true self with someone else. John realized quickly that being “out” was the best way to be a positive role model for others and he didn’t waste any time doing just that. In October of that same year, in celebration of National Coming Out Day, John shared his personal story with his colleagues and with the world.
Still in 2012, a police officer coming out, even in San Jose – the 10th largest city in the nation, was a big deal. John’s pride in himself and his willingness to help and support other LGBT officers was extraordinary from the beginning.
I remember the first time John spoke on one of the LGBT officer panels. The program was relatively new at the time and John came to observe. When he was invited to speak about his own story, John didn’t hesitate. I will always remember the tears that were streaming down his face that very first time. You could feel the emotion and relief, but it was the first time he stood in front of a group of more than 40 and said, “I’m a gay man.”
After that, John regularly participated on the panel discussions for our cadets. He became passionate about being a role model and was committed to making life for gay officers better at his department. John worked with San Jose’s current chief, Eddie Garcia, to create a first-of-its-kind recruitment campaign specifically targeting gay and lesbian applicants. It’s become a model for agencies across the country.
Not long after coming out, John met Gustavo, the man who he would fall in love with and marry. It all happened quickly for John. He came out to his family, introduced them to the love of his life, and then got married. Gustavo came with John to almost every panel discussion and I could tell how happy they made each other. Together, they were a wonderful example for our students of a loving same-sex couple.
John shared with just a few people that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He never made a big deal of it and never stopped working. He may not have been feeling well, but he was present, committed, and engaged. He traveled with Gustavo and continued to live his life to the fullest while remaining dedicated to his beliefs and his work.
Officer John Reinert lost his battle with cancer on January 2, 2018. I will neer forget his deep voice, big smile, those tears, and more recently, his big embrace. I will keep his memory alive in our work and I know he will be present in spirit at every panel we present. John became a friend and colleague who I will miss very much.