The Criminal Justice Department at West Chester University hosted a panel of police officers on Wednesday, April 20 to discuss being LGBTQIA in law enforcement.
The panel consisted of eight officers from the Philadelphia region who discussed their experiences of being part of the LGBTQIA community in the police force. The officers agreed that acceptance for the community has grown greatly over the past few years, and only the officers who had been in the force longer experienced any discrimination within the department.
“We remember a time of discrimination for officers who have been there longer,” said Officer Jo Mason, president of the Gay Officer Action League (GOAL).
GOAL was formed to confront the needs and issues of those who were LGBTQIA in law enforcement, and there are currently about 85 members in the Philadelphia GOAL.
Mason explained how, growing up, he never saw himself working for law enforcement and was even against it, but he then decided he wanted to change things.
“You can stand outside the castle and throw rocks or you can let the king invite you inside,” Mason explained, but it took him about 10 years working for the department before he came out as transgender.
“I’ve had nothing but support from the department,” he said.
Other officers shared their experiences, and the ones who have been in law enforcement the longest said that, while there used to be discrimination many years ago, they find nothing but support now.
“The generation has changed,” Lieutenant Kelley Warner said. “Being gay isn’t that big of a deal anymore.”
Even though there is still discrimination in the world, acceptance of the LGBTQIA community has come a long way.
Being homosexual was illegal in the U.S. in 1969, but things started to change after the Stonewall Uprising that year. In 1979, homosexuality was no longer classified as a mental disorder by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and then in 2011, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed. Finally, in 2015, same-sex marriage became legal in the U.S. With laws changing, acceptance for the community has risen, and while this can be seen in law enforcement, there is still a long way to go.
In a survey done in Texas in 2008, it was found that 25 percent of police chiefs said that they’d be uncomfortable working with a gay man, and 50 percent said that they’d be uncomfortable working with a lesbian. While 56 percent of the police chiefs considered homosexuality to be a perversion, 62 percent said that homosexuality is against community morals.
The Transgender Community of Police and Sheriffs (TCOPS) reported that 90 percent of transgender officers had negative experiences, 68 percent received verbal harassment and 43 percent reported threats of violence.
In a survey done of 409 criminal justice students at WCU, it was found that homophobia was higher amongst students who aspired to be police officers, so it is clear that the needs of LGBTQIA people need to continue to be met.
When a student asked how to treat LGBTQIA people without making them uncomfortable or being rude, an officer responded, “Just treat them the same as you’d treat everyone else.”
The panel ended with the police officers giving words of wisdom and inspiration, encouraging everyone to be true to themselves and that LGBTQIA people can do the job just as well as anyone else can.
They all said that being in law enforcement is like being in another family because everyone has each other’s backs, and they feel good to do a job that can make a difference.
“You will never forget when you inspired someone or helped someone,” Warner said.
Dana Perkiss is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at DP785965@wcupa.edu.