Good Cop Gay Cop: From the Beat Patrol to the Precinct House, Gay and Lesbian Police Officers Are Shattering the Blue Wall of Silence

Article excerpt

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. …