Box 4.5 GAY AND LESBIAN POLICE OFFICERS
The presence of women and gay men on the police force challenges the traditional heterosexually masculine definition of the occupation. Much as being a competent female officer challenges assumptions that policing is a masculine occupation suited only for masculine men, so too does being a competent gay male officer. Many straight male police officers are against anything feminine, be it a female police officer or a male police officer they perceive to be effeminate.
Homophobic attitudes in society at large and within law enforcement in particular create many problems for the gay or lesbian officer. As of June 1997, in most states, an employer is perfectly within their rights to fire (or refuse to hire, or refuse to promote) an employee solely because of his or her sexual orientation. Thus, the gay or lesbian officer who is being mistreated on the job lacks legal protection to confront the problem.
Unlike one’s race or sex, lesbian and gay officers can choose to try to conceal their sexual orientation. Thus, some officers may experience the stress of staying closeted. Gay officers may try to present a heterosexual image by playing along with the macho sexual bravado. A lesbian officer may tolerate flirtations from male officers in order to protect her sexual identity or dispel rumors that she is a lesbian (Leinen 1993:63). Some lesbian officers report harassment on the basis of their gender or their sexual orientation or a combination of both. Male officers are expected to be masculine or risk being labeled a “faggot.” Women officers are expected to be feminine -- or at least not masculine -- or risk being labeled a “bulldagger” or a “dyke.”
Gay and lesbian officers also may have to endure the homophobic attitudes of colleagues. For example, in 1998, two male New York City police officers filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the city and the Police Department. One of the officers, a 13-year member of the force, reported being subjected to offense and harassing conduct by officers, including being assaulted, forced into his locker, handcuffed and suspended from a coat rack, and having members of the command attempt to force him into simulating oral sex with another officer (King 1998). Some gay and lesbian officers fear for their safety. A lesbian officer observes “If I were a gay man, I don’t know if I’d be out. . . I can see where a gay man would really be in fear for his life every single day from his fellow officers” (quoted in Buhrke 1996:110). For some officers, the torment and ridicule may be severe enough to cause them to seek early retirement or psychiatric treatment.
Recognizing the need for gay and lesbian police officers and other criminal justice professionals to have an arena to discuss needs and concerns in an atmosphere free of job-related reprisals, the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) was established in 1981. GOAL continues to provides a safe environment for people who have been, and continue to be, victims of harassment and discrimination in the workplace, while at the same time attempting to change homophobic attitudes in the workplace and in the community at large. Other organizations such as Law Enforcement Gays and Lesbians (LEGAL) also offer support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers in the criminal justice system.