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Gay police officers in the South face bigotry

“A fellow officer pulled out his .45 caliber gun and calmly said, ‘I can make a big hole in a queers head with this.’ I was frozen. My fears supplanted my idealistic reason.”
— Officer James Davis, on the homo-hatred that made him finally get out of Athens-Clarke County Police Department. Needless to say, he didn’t come out.

There’s a great piece in the Southern Voice by Andrew Keegan on the struggles gay police officers have in the field.

Certain states, like Florida and New York, have support organizations for gay law enforcement officers. Georgia does not. But Davis hopes a first-of-its-kind conference for gay criminal justice personnel in the state, scheduled for Sept. 10 at Emory University, will change that.

The event is a culmination of 10 years of work by Davis, who now serves on the university’s police force. “We are the only region without a support group for gay police officers,” he said. “This is a preliminary step in that direction.”

Shortly after joining the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, the former language teacher said he was approached by his sergeant.

“He asked what we were doing this weekend,” Davis recalled, “and asked if we wanted to go to Ben Burton Park to catch some faggots. I was terrified.” For an entire year, Davis remained closeted. “I began to challenge those types of remarks, just not as a gay man,” Davis said.

…Hoping for a more welcoming environment, Davis joined several police departments in the ensuing years, gaining insight, conviction and finally the strength to come out.

“I’ve been an openly gay cop for seven years now,” Davis said. “But I know a lot of people in law enforcement who are still terrified over being outed. That’s why this conference is so important — to unite for a professional purpose and develop a community of support.”

Ironically, the article notes that for lesbians, it’s a bit easier to “fit in” though you have to wonder if it’s really progress if the matter of acceptance is that you are perceived as “one of the boys.”

Some officers argue that lesbians in law enforcement are more likely to be accepted, according to a 10-year veteran of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department.

“It’s plain to me that it’s much easier for women to be accepted,” said Sgt. Angela Taylor. “We work mainly with men, and are treated like one of the guys. They’ll joke around with you, like saying ‘check out that hot chick over there.'” Taylor, 33, indicated there are several closeted male officers in her department. “The word faggot gets thrown around a lot,” she said. “I can imagine that it’s really hard on the guys. Our job is stressful enough because we deal with other people’s chaos. I would imagine not being able to be yourself eventually affects your performance.”

…Key West, Fla., resident Carroll Hunter spent the past 25 years in law enforcement. His career includes 10 years as a corrections department head at New York’s Riker’s Island prison.

“I couldn’t hide it if I wanted too,” Carroll said. “Why insult anyone’s intelligence by pretending to be heterosexual?”

To be successful in law enforcement, a gay person has little room for error, Hunter said. “The business is extremely macho and authoritarian,” he said. “You can’t be namby pamby. You have to hit the ground running and shine at everything you do.”

As vice-president of Florida LEGAL (Law Enforcement Gays and Lesbians), Hunter said he has seen both strides and setbacks for gay law enforcement employees.

“We just had our annual conference and former Attorney General Janet Reno was our keynote speaker,” Hunter said. “But on a scale of one to 10, with one being the low number, I would say we are at a three. We have a hell of a long way to go.”

With bigoted attitudes in too many law enforcement officers and their administrators, how can gay people expect with certainty that their calls to police for assistance — officers paid by gay tax dollars, I might add — will be taken seriously and without prejudice?

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding