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. …