Good cop gay cop: from the beat patrol to the precinct house, gay and lesbian police officers are shattering the blue wall of silence – Cover Story

Erik Meers

From the beat partol to the precinct house,

gay and lesbian police officers are shatering

the blue wall of silence

Amid the flourishes of full police regalia, Officer Anthony

Crespo beamed as he strode across a stage set up in front of

New York City police headquarters to accept the Medal of

Valor from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. On that crisp fall day

last September, he became the first openly gay officer in the

city’s history to receive a medal for heroism. Crespo was

being honored for a 1995 incident in which he rescued a

female cop being held at knifepoint by a suicidal man who had

walked into the precinct station. Crespo shot the man, who

later died, but not before the deranged man stabbed Crespo

in the chest, puncturing his left lung. The Medal of Valor

ceremony was “definitely the high point of my career,”

says Crespo, who is liaison officer to the gay and lesbian

community in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn.

But the reactionary side of law enforcement was also on

full display that day. Immediately after the ceremony

Emergency Services Unit officer Lawrence Johnston, who

had just received a medal presented by the Gay Officers’

Action League for his bravery in ending a crazed man’s

shooting rampage in 1995, marched up to GOAL New York

president Edgar Rodriguez and returned his medal.

Johnston declined to comment on his motivation, but Patrick

Burke, a board member of Johnston’s union, told the New

York Post, “Personally, he has nothing against gays, but his

wife and children felt humiliated” by his receiving a medal

from GOAL. Burke also noted that homosexuality “goes

against [Johnston’s] religious beliefs.”

In many ways these two events at the NYPD ceremony

accurately portray the complex work environment faced by

gay and lesbian officers in this most macho of professions.

There has been great progress since the early ’90s, when

Daryl Gates, the disgraced former Los Angeles police chief,

smugly declared that there were no gay officers under his

command. An increasing number of cops are bravely coming out

and speaking their minds when they hear homophobic comments

or witness unequal treatment of gays. Organizations like GOAL

and the Golden State Peace Officers Association, California’s gay

cop alliance, have further increased their clout.

These efforts are already being felt by young openly gay

officers like San Francisco’s Michael Robison, who joined the

force in 1992. “The older gay guys in the department were the

first ones who were brave enough to be out,” he says. “I’m treated

like one of the guys.” Robison says that when work-related

problems do arise, officers–who depend on one another for 100%

support–feel free to talk to one another. “The `good ol’ boys’

system is on its way out, and the newer generation that’s replaced

them sees things from a more open-minded standpoint. We have

a common saying among people in the department: `When you’re

at work you’re all wearing blue.’ I really hand it to the people who

came out back then because they really-paved-the way for us.”

Pressure is also being exerted from the outside. Unlike the

U.S. military, where the Republican-controlled Congress has

retained homophobic policies, local police departments are feeling

the heat from city councils and progressive mayors to be more

responsive to the communities they protect. Now, many cities

have gay-sensitive police chiefs. “Los Angeles is one of the most

ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the world and has always

had a thriving gay and lesbian community,” wrote Bernard Parks, chief of

the Los Angeles Police Department, in a prepared statement to

The Advocate. Yet, he admits, “for many years there were no

openly gay or lesbian employees in the LAPD.” That’s changing,

however, as the nation’s second largest city actively recruits gay

men and lesbians. “There are now dozens of sworn and civilian

personnel who openly identify themselves as gay or lesbian.

Lesbians and gay men hold highly sensitive positions in elite units

within the LAPD, such as the office of the chief of police,

internal affairs, training division, and recruitment unit,”

according to Parks. “I am pleased with the work of these officers.

As chief of police, I set the tone for the LAPD. In that capacity

I have made it quite clear that gay and lesbian officers will not be

treated as second-class citizens by anybody under my command.”

In fact, the LAPD even has an officer who works as a liaison

to the gay and lesbian community. “It’s an incredible opportunity

to bridge the gap between an institution that has been known for

not treating gays and lesbians fairly and a community that has

been fearful of it,” says Lisa Phillips; 39, the openly lesbian

officer who holds the liaison position. “Being openly gay allows

me to stand in the middle and let both sides come together.” Still,

openly gay police officers are concentrated in urban areas and

represent a small percentage of most forces. Today, there are

only about 15 openly gay and lesbian sheriff’s deputies out of

8,000 in Los Angeles County (which is a separate jurisdiction

from that of the Los Angeles Police Department), according to

LAPD officer A.J. Rotella, who is president of the Golden State

Peace Officers Association. Yet even these small numbers are

changing the homophobic ethos of entire departments.

Nearly all gay and lesbian cops have stories to tell about their

own experiences with homophobia. The tales range from playful

ribbing to the crassest kind of harassment imaginable. Most gay

cops will say that they expect–and don’t mind–a little good-spirited

sexual banter on the job. But when teasing becomes persecution, gay officers,

who can be forceful when necessary like most police officers,

increasingly won’t tolerate it.

Generally, lesbian officers seem to have less difficulty being

out than gay men. “It’s a lot easier being a lesbian cop than being

a gay cop,” says openly lesbian Travis County, Tex., sheriff

Margo Frasier, who runs the county’s 1,200-person sheriff’s

department. “The occupation is dominated by heterosexual

males. There’s this bizarre idea that a woman that’s a lesbian is

somehow one of the guys. A gay officer is more of a threat to

the whole macho mystique. The women in my department are

much more open than the guys. There’s no concern from the

top, so it must come from other officers.” Openly lesbian San

Francisco police officer Paget Mitchell agrees. “Gay men always

have it worse,” says Mitchell, whose girlfriend, Susan Nangle, also

is a San Francisco police officer. “My [male police] partners love

the fact that I’m gay. They can now talk about their girlfriends

with you. They think women are women and gay women are cops.”

Like many women in law enforcement, Frasier began her

career in the corrections department. Before affirmative action it

was easier for women to get work in corrections than in police

departments because of most states’ requirements that female

guards supervise women inmates. In many states women prison

guards were not allowed to “go to codes”–prisonspeak for

handling violent outbreaks–out of concern for their safety. But

wardens quickly discovered that, compared to their male

counterparts, female officers could often bring different skills to

bear on volatile situations. “We’re not afraid to talk our way out

of something,” says Lt. Lena Van Dyke of New Jersey’s Southern

State Correctional Facility, who legally changed her last name for

humorous effect. “It doesn’t always have to be physical. When

you’ve got two men face-to-face, you’ve got to prove who’s the

bigger. We can deescalate a situation a lot of times just by


Many lesbian law enforcement officers say they have

faced greater obstacles because of their sex rather than their

sexual orientation. “I get strange looks sometimes from other

sheriffs,” says Frasier. “But that has a whole lot more to do

with gender. They don’t even get past that point to deal with

the other issue. I have been the object of some very

discriminatory behavior, but it doesn’t have anything to do

with my sexual orientation.” Today, Frasier is one of just 21

female county sheriffs out of some 3,200 in the country.

The feelings of discomfort, however, seem to run much

deeper with gay male cops. Before Rotella came out, he says,

two officers tormented him relentlessly for eight months. “I

had pictures of women with penises and my name on them

placed in public settings,” he says. “They put up a paper

license plate on my truck that said, GAY 4 U.” Rotella says he

went to his commander, who dismissed the officers’ behavior

as juvenile pranks. Rotella met with better results after taking

his complaints to higher authorities. One of the offending

officers, who was found to have been visiting similar terrors on

at least four other officers, was dismissed from the force. The

other was suspended.

But even, when the abuse is not so glaring, genuine

discomfort with gay men often lurks just beneath a polite

veneer. Officer Dave D’Amico, who is the only openly gay

cop in the 70-officer Asbury Park, N.J., police force, notes the

uneasiness he sees among straight officers when he conducts

sensitivity-training classes. “When you talk to straight men, if

they think of two men kissing or making love, they get

disgusted to the point where they’re ready to throw up,” he

says. “If it’s two women, they think it’s a turn-on.” LAPD

police officer Jim Parker recalls an incident in which a group of

straight male officers were chatting pleasantly with a well-respected

openly gay officer. “As soon as he walked away,

one guy said, `Can you believe a dick goes up that ass?'” Parker


In the rough-and-tumble world of policing, nothing debunks

a stereotype like a bit of heroics. Last October openly lesbian

Atlanta officer Pat Cocciolone was shot in the

head at point-blank range responding to a domestic-violence

call at the home of Gregory Lawler. Her police partner, John

Sowa, was killed. Amazingly, Cocciolone survived and is

recovering at home, according to a spokeswoman for the

Atlanta police, who adds that Lawler has been charged with

Sowa’s murder and with aggravated assault on Cocciolone.

Investigators later uncovered a cache of firearms, bomb-making

manuals, explosives, and literature on right-wing

militia groups in Lawler’s apartment. The task force

investigating the bombings at Centennial Olympic Park in

1996 and an Atlanta lesbian bar in 1997 is conducting a probe

on Lawler.

Van Dyke, who is in charge of 63 officers at Southern State

prison, recalls how she won the respect of her straight male

peers. “I work in an all-male prison,” she says. “There were

two guys fighting, and I took one of the guys down. From

then on, I had earned mine.”

A slightly less risky way to put an end to the fag jokes is

by court order and seven-figure jury awards. Rotella says he is

suing his agency for the alleged incidents of harassment and

also for discrimination, because he believes he has been passed

over for promotion because he is gay. The New York chapter

of GOAL won the right to recruit officers during the New

York City gay pride parade last year in a settlement reached

with the department. Many local departments have abandoned

the practice of questioning new recruits about their sexual

orientation during polygraph tests because the practice

violates many states’ discrimination laws. In Miami Beach,

Fla., former police officer Peter Zecchini also is going to court.

Zecchini says he experienced every cop’s nightmare when–on

five separate occasions in the early ’90s–fellow officers refused

to respond to emergency-backup calls. “Every policeman in

the city is supposed to drop whatever they’re doing and get

over there if an officer needs emergency assistance,” Zecchini

told The Miami Herald. “I was scared to death.”

If incidents like these could happen in a gay mecca like

Miami Beach, such fears are exponentially greater

among gay officers in rural and suburban areas, so the majority of

gay cops in these areas remain closeted. Dave, 25, who had been

out since high school, felt, compelled to go back in the closet when

he made a career change and became a sheriff’s deputy in an

affluent Denver suburb. “It’s extremely stressful,” he says. “People

make comments about gays that are not correct. I’d like to stand

up for myself. But I don’t want to put myself in the position

where one day I’m relying on one of these deputies to back me up

and they don’t come because I’m gay. This career depends on a

team atmosphere. At this point I don’t want to do that to myself.”

Many officers have adopted an

informal “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy

on the issue of their sexual orientation.

Parker does nothing to conceal being

gay, but because of his macho bearing

many of his heterosexual peers assume

he is straight. Such unwarranted

assumptions can lead to hilarious

consequences. “My boyfriend is a cop

too, and we’ve gone on patrol

together,” says Parker. “It’s just

really funny.” Parker says he

intends to remain closeted (although

this story may open the door a little)

until he has proved himself to other

officers on the force.

Most gay officers would agree with

Parker’s strategy. They say it’s best to

prove your mettle first and come out

only after you are entrenched in the

system, with allies to back you up.

Officer Michael P. Carney, who joined

the Springfield, Mass., police

department in 1979, left the

department in 1989 after a personal

struggle with his sexual orientation led

to heavy drinking and extreme

depression. After coming out Carney

yearned to return to the career he

loved so passionately. During his

reinstatement hearing with the police

commission, he came out to his

interviewers. And despite a spotless

record, the commission rejected his

application three times.

The day after Carney filed a complaint with the Massachusetts

Commission Against Discrimination in 1992, his picture and his

coming-out story were splashed across the front page of the local

newspaper. “That morning I received over a hundred phone calls

from people I knew from high school, friends I hung out with, and

officers I’d worked with,” Carney says. “Everyone was calling me

in support of me–not one negative thing…. Everybody was on my

side.” The commission eventually found “probable cause” that

the Springfield Police Department had violated Carney’s civil

rights. The police department agreed to reinstate him, though it

refused to admit that it was guilty of any wrongdoing. Today,

Carney works for the Springfield police chief and in November

was a guest at the White House Conference on Hate Crimes,

during which he met President Clinton.

D’Amico had been working for eight years in the New Jersey

prison system before an incident gave him the courage to come

out to his colleagues. “One day I was sitting in the officers’ dining

room,” says D’Amico. “There was an inmate who walked by who

was extremely thin and feminine in his characteristics. He was

HIV-positive. A very good friend of mine said, `Look at the

faggot. All faggots should die of AIDS.’ That angered me so much

inside. It set something off. So I came out before a lineup, which

was in front of 62 men and my lieutenant. I told everyone that I

was gay and that if anyone had a problem with it that they could

come talk to me. They thought it was a practical joke. They

didn’t believe it. So I had a party with my lover. Seven straight

cops came. I had to kiss my lover on the lips for them to believe

that I was gay.” D’Amico says he hasn’t suffered any negative

consequences from coming out, though several straight officers

have tried unsuccessfully to convert him to heterosexuality.

Even in rural areas a few trailblazers

like prison officer Van Dyke are finding a

surprising degree of acceptance after

coming out. “When we got married I had a

reception here in town, and I had quite a

few officers and their spouses,” she recalls.

“We have 100 houses in the town we live

in. It’s not like living in the city. These

guys ride around with guns in their pickup

trucks. We’re real redneck. For them to

accept me and to bring their wives and

husbands, knowing what they were going

to find–a lesbian marriage and a lesbian

reception–is fantastic. I’m accepted for

my lifestyle and my partner the same way

that anybody else is.”

The act of coming out for gay and

lesbian officers is primarily about being able to be as open about

their personal lives as their straight counterparts. In most cases

they don’t see their sexual orientation as relevant to their law-and-order

duties. “When I’m at work I turn off my sexuality,” says

Rotella. “I’m there to do the job. The fact that I’m gay has

nothing to do with my performance on the job. I don’t wear a

rainbow flag or pink triangle on my uniform that would denote me

as a gay man.” There are, of course, occasions when an openly

gay cop is better-suited than a straight one to tackle certain cases.

In cities with large gay populations, police chiefs often find it

preferable to have openly gay cops work on gay-bashing incidents and

domestic-violence cases between same-sex partners. “Gay people who I deal

with out on patrol stereotype the police as being fascists,” says

Parker. “I have had gay guys say, `You wouldn’t understand,’ when I

go to fights between them.” When Parker reveals that he is gay, he

says, the confidence level of the other party immediately increases.

When the roles are reversed and gays and lesbians are themselves

the perpetrators of crimes, most gay cops feel little sympathy.

They believe that crimes like public sex and drug use in dance clubs

should be prosecuted just like any other. “The law is the law,” stays

Rotella. “I think that the [gay and lesbian] community should start

taking responsibility and start discussing why some are in bathrooms

playing around in the first place.”

In fact, most police departments require their officers to report

any crime they see–on or off duty. “Our job is 24 hours,” says

Carney. “When I see something, I act on it. If that results in an

arrest, then that’s my job, and that’s what I’m going to do. I might

be helping somebody by locking them up. I’m not going to enable

somebody by looking the other way.” Other officers take a less

involved approach. “I’m not going to save the world,” says one

cop, who wanted to remain anonymous. “If I saw someone doing

drugs, I would get away from it. None of my friends do drugs. But

sometimes they’ll introduce me to someone who does. They know

immediately to tell their friends not to do it around me. If I saw

someone with a whole bag of crystal or K, that would be different.”

Scott Ouellette, a 33-year-old reserve officer in Los Angeles and

Parker’s boyfriend, also finds the prevalence of drugs in some gay

circles a problem. “Walking the thin blue line in a world

of circuit parties and drugs is the greatest challenge for me, says

Ouellette, who enjoys attending dance parties but is reminded that

he is always on duty.

Although much progress has been made in police departments in

the past few years, change comes grudgingly. But the bravery of a

handful of gay and lesbian cops in departments across the country

means that local police forces will at least be forced to take a hard

look at discrimination and harassment laws that apply elsewhere in

the country. Today’s young recruits bring a more sophisticated

worldview to their jobs than most of their predecessors, and that

includes respect for gays and lesbians. Just ask Officer Carney, who

had to return to the police academy, which he had originally

attended 16 years earlier, as a condition of his reinstatement in

1994. Though he was a student, Carney was asked to teach the

sensitivity and hate-crimes classes. He took the opportunity to

come out to his class. The fallout? Carney was so popular with his

classmates that they elected him sergeant at arms. “I had a blast,”

Carney recalls. “I’m out as a gay police officer with a bunch of 19-year-old

recruits. They were all great. They all looked up to me. It

really blew me away.”

Carney, then 34, went on to break the police academy record for

the 1.5-meter run. At graduation he won a physical training award.

“Most of the recruits who graduated with me went to the captain

and asked to work with me in the car because they wanted to learn

from someone with experience,” Carney says. “That’s what this job

is about. It’s not about who you are. It’s about working together as a

team. So many things have happened for the better since I’ve come

out. It’s hard to look back now and see how many years I was so



Edgar Rodriguez

Age: 37

Rank: Sergeant

City: New York

“In a country where the suicide rate

is highest among gay and lesbian

youths, being a visible gay police

officers makes you a real-life role

model and a symbol of hope.”

Michael P. Carney

Age: 37

Rank: Officer, liaison to the

chief of police

City: Springfield, Mass.

Philosophy: “Being a police officer

is my whole life; being gay is

just a small part of me.”

Jim Parker and partner,

Scott Ouellette

Ages: 35, 33

Ranks: Officer, reserve officer

City: Los Angeles

Parker’s philosophy: “Sometimes

the stereotypes of people in

the gay community–thinking that

all cops are straight–affect me

more than any discrimination I

face at work.”

Noah Hargett

Age: 36

Rank: Probation officer

City: Newburg, N.Y.

Philosophy: “I try to be fair to

everyone, but it’s hard when you

see gays guys come through the

system, because you know that

they are going to get picked on.”

Margo Frasier

Age: 44

Rank: Sheriff, Travis County, Tex.

City: Austin

“If you can tell my

sexual orientation

by how I carry out my

duties as sheriff, then

I do have a problem.”

Lena Van Dyke

Age: 47

Rank: Lieutenant, South State

Correctional Facility

City: Heislerville, N.J.

Philosophy: “If you are out in

your department, your department

is going to be more aware

of the homosexual community

when they are dealing with it.”

Anthony Crespo

Age: 32

Rank: Officer

City: New York

Philosophy: “It’s important for

people to come out and be who

they are so that they can be role

models to the youth and others in

the community.”

Dave D’Amico

Age: 27

Rank: Officer

City: Asbury Park, N.J.

Philosophy: “Being an openly

gay police officer, I’m committed

to serving the gay community as a

positive role model. We need more

professionals who are not afraid

to stand up and say, `I’m gay.'”

Mike Robinson

Age: 29

Rank: Officer

City: San Francisco

“It’s not a job that you take for the

money. It’s a calling for people who

want to help other in the community.”

Paget Mithell

Age: 33

Rank: Officer

City: San Francisco

“Because I can be myself at work, I am able

to concentrate on the business of policing

and enjoy a healthy and happy

relationship at home.”

Susan Nangle

Age: 28

Rank: Officer

City: San Francisco

“I am lucky enough to work in a city

where being gay is a nonissue. Because

of this, work is work, and my private life

is my own.”


Gay and lesbian cops are everywhere–even

in cyberspace. Here

are some Web sites for people who

are already on the force and for

those thinking about joining.

NYPD Pride Alliance

Representing the interests of lesbians and gay

men in blue of the New York City Police Department,

the alliance maintains this site, which

provides the group’s mission statement and by-laws

as well as links to other gay police groups.

Golden State Peace Officers Association of Southern California

This site features a whimsical graphic of a pair

of pigs jumping for joy and tips members off to

the annual “Pigs in Paradise” weekend getaway

in the resort town of Palm Springs, Calif.

Lesbian and Gay Police Association

Representing gay law enforcement personnel in

the United Kingdom, this site includes links for

suggested reading and other references.

Gay Officers’ Action League

The official site of GOAL New York, the first chapter

in what has now become an unofficial network

of GOAL groups around the country.

Gay Cops, the book

Two reviews of the book Gay Cops by Stephen

Leinen. The 1993 book is the result of a decade’s

worth of interviews with gay men and lesbians

who wear the badge.



COPYRIGHT 1998 Liberation Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

You May Also Like

Outed in Batman’s backyard: writer Greg Rucka brings lesbian cops to the ongoing story of DC Comics’ Gotham Central – culture

Outed in Batman’s backyard: writer Greg Rucka brings lesbian cops to the ongoing story of DC Comics’ Gotham Central – culture – Interview …

THE BOYS in the bands – boys are also fans of all-boy pop music groups

THE BOYS in the bands – boys are also fans of all-boy pop music groups – Brief Article Anderson Jones Once, all-boy pop music group…

William S. Burroughs – 1914-1997

William S. Burroughs – 1914-1997 – Brief Article Gary Indiana By the time he wrote Junky in the early 1950s, William S. Burroughs w…

Sweeps-week sex: TV news stations turn to gay sex in public rest rooms in an effort to flush out the competition

Sweeps-week sex: TV news stations turn to gay sex in public rest rooms in an effort to flush out the competition – Cover Story Bill Ghent<…