Published in Baltimore OutLoud ( http://baltimoreoutloud.com/wp/changing-with-the-times/ )
Let’s talk about the cops – today’s cops. Not the cops from 50 years ago, ten years ago, or even last year. I’m talking about the ones in uniform today who want to be included in our community, who want to protect us, and treat us as equal human beings of worth and value. I’m not talking about the cops who dismiss us, or bully us, or don’t give our humanity a second thought. I’m talking about the ones who want to understand us; who want to defend us; change policies, procedures, and ultimately laws for us. The cops who are related to some of us, who admire us, who date us, who raise us, who love us, the cops who are us. These are the cops I want to talk about.
I understand the history between police officers and the LGBTQ community. For a long time, I was completely wary of them myself. My thoughts and feelings are shifting – for good reason.
This last year I’ve had the distinct pleasure of educating some of these police officers, as an invited guest into their home. I ask each and every one of them for three things:
Respect – I respect them for their willingness to learn about us.
That they engage with me fully – they bring their questions, concerns, labels, and challenges to the table so that we can debunk myths, put faces on the community, and role play common situations where they want to get it right.
That they give me written feedback about what they learn; what’s working; what isn’t working; and what would help them to apply what they learn.
Overwhelmingly, the police officers I’m working with say “yes”. All the way up to the chief of police.
I tell you that to tell you this, it’s not me they are responding to when they agree to my guidelines. It’s their desire to create a safer community for all of their citizens that they are responding to. It’s so they never have to bury another fellow officer or broken-hearted child due to the shame and fear which for too long has been part of the coming out process. It’s so they create better, more elegant solutions to enforcing the laws. It’s to stop divisiveness so we have real community.
Admittedly it was scary at first (alright, terrifying) for me to be in front of a room full of cops with guns and handcuffs dressing the way I do. I mean it wasn’t that long ago that a person would be stopped, possibly arrested, and maybe molested by law enforcement officers because of my gender expression. I know in some areas of the country that’s still the case. For the purposes of this article that’s not the case.
In Anne Arundel County in the great state of Maryland they are working diligently to end this victimization of the LGBTQ community. They are setting a new standard for our state. One that police officers in New York City, Philadelphia, and many cities are setting. It’s going to take time and guidance and collaboration and speaking up and encouragement from the LGBTQ community to change over a century’s worth of institutionalized habits created by enforcing laws designed to oppress, convert, and eradicate gender and sexual orientation minorities. I’m not making those things right or decent or even saying we should overlook them. I am saying that not all police officers – especially the ones who want to be part of our protests, our celebrations, and our future – are the ones that harmed us in our past. Many of them are not.
The police officers I have been engaged with are innovate, curious, and seeking solutions to help guide them through this time of monumental changes in our laws; societal viewpoints; and the increasing numbers of us coming out the closet and being wonderfully, beautifully, authentically ourselves for the first time in living memory. They are US. These officers deserve our respect, our support, and our empathy as they navigate the impossible position of being stuck between the changing law and changing society.
What an uncomfortable place to need a break! Come back next article and I’ll share what they are doing to educate themselves.