Book excerpt: Coming Out From Behind the Badge
Strategies for law enforcement leaders to create an accepting workplace
The following is excerpted from the third edition of "Coming Out From Behind The Badge" by Greg Miraglia. Order your copy here.
By Greg Miraglia
Creating an accepting workplace
During the period of 2019 through 2022, Out to Protect surveyed 886 participants in the online LGBT awareness courses offered to agencies across the country about their experience with homophobia and transphobia inside the department.
Ten percent of respondents said they heard terms like “fag,” “dyke,” or “tranny” used by members of the department often (12 percent said managers or the chief executive used them), 37 percent said rarely, and 53 percent said they never hear this language used. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said their agency has more than five “out” gay or lesbian people employed, while 18 percent said there were none. Eighty-nine percent of respondents said their agency does not employ an “out” transgender person.
The survey asked questions about the willingness of the chief or sheriff to hire an LGBTQ+ person and if they would be successful in a field training program. The majority of respondents had confidence that a qualified LGBTQ+ person would be hired and would be successful in training. What is it like in your department?
Perhaps the best way to get started with assessing the climate within your department is to ask the leaders within your department some basic questions:
- Is our department as accepting of gay, lesbian, and bisexual personnel as it is of heterosexual employees?
- Would a gay, lesbian, or bisexual employee feel comfortable bringing his or her partner to a department social function?
- Would an equally qualified gay, lesbian, or bisexual employee be promoted as often as a heterosexual employee?
- Would gay, lesbian, or bisexual members of your community know with confidence that they would be considered for employment by your agency, regardless of their sexual orientation?
- Would the words “tranny,” “fag,” “faggot” or the phrase “that’s so gay” be used by one of your employees within the walls of the department and go unnoticed or unchecked?
Leadership in changing organizational culture clearly starts at the top, with the chief or sheriff. The first person who should check his biases at the door is the chief or sheriff. The agency executive must be the walking role model of acceptance and inclusion, and that requires getting past any internal homophobia. How is this done?
As I have already written, avoid thinking pornographically about sexual orientation. The first step is to look at every interaction with the individual equally, fairly, and without any bias. Remember, it’s not about who a person sleeps with or what a couple does together that matters, it is about what every healthy relationship has in common: trust, respect, love, and commitment. At work, what matters is how effectively the person performs on the job, how good of a person he is, and how he contributes to the betterment of the organization and community as a whole.
Why not simply adopt the United States military’s policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell”? The answer is quite simple. This policy effectively keeps LGBTQ+ employees in the closet. It forces individuals to make a choice between loving their career or having a loving personal life. Worse yet, this policy forces an otherwise honest and trustworthy member of law enforcement to violate the golden rule of the law enforcement profession; it
forces the individual to lie.
Closeted officers will commonly say and do things to create the perception they are straight. One lie leads to the next, and eventually, the closeted officer is living a life that is a total lie, in both his professional circles as well as in personal ones.
The United States military adopted this policy in an attempt to demonstrate some neutrality or at least to appear less discriminatory toward homosexuals. The reality is that this policy is completely discriminatory and sets up individuals to fail. For example, if under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, an officer is discovered to be homosexual by a friend or co-worker and word of this discovery is spread by the friend or co-worker, even though the employee himself did not tell, the end result can be the same. The pressure to remain hidden and undiscoverable in order to comply with this type of policy is tremendous and completely unfair. No other member of an organization would be made to suffer such pressure because of an innate aspect of who they are. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policies are entirely discriminatory and detrimental to everyone, including the organization, because, in one way or the other, it forces talent to eventually leave the profession.
Here is a list of things to do for every agency executive who wants to make change to ensure that personnel who are gay or lesbian will feel accepted and respected.
- Put into department policy the same protections for sexual orientation and gender identity that likely already exist for gender, race, nationality, and ethnicity. Send a clear and strong message that discrimination, harassment, or any other form of behavior that demeans based on sexual orientation is prohibited.
- Establish a practice of responding to and investigating complaints of harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity that is equal to any other type of harassment complaint.
- Review organizational mission statements, vision statements, and values to ensure that what is in writing is consistent with organizational culture and practice. Make strong statements in these documents valuing individuals and diversity.
- Talk about the issues and don’t shy away from openly discussing sexual orientation and gender identity as an aspect of diversity within the organization. As a leader, it’s important that you demonstrate comfort with the issue.
- Education and awareness is the best way to overcome fear about differences in sexual orientation. Based on your agency’s climate, explore options for training that can provide information to ease any fears that may be present.
- Reach out to the gay and lesbian community with recruitment efforts. Remember what the true intent of affirmative action always has been: to open up employment opportunities to minority groups that stereotypically wouldn’t consider themselves eligible for the job.
- Create an LGBT law enforcement community liaison position. This ancillary assignment can help build trust between the agency and the LGBTQ+ community as well as to value LGBTQ+ employees. The person appointed doesn’t have to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but they do need to be trained and have support from the agency executive.
- Don’t expect change overnight. Changing organizational culture is something that takes time and continuous effort. Be patient but persistent.
- Remember that to understand and accept someone else does not require you to agree with them.
- The most important and powerful thing a chief or sheriff can do is lead by example. Remember that the top executive establishes the formal values of an organization by how the executive acts and in what decisions are made. Actions do speak louder than the written word.
The best way to get help with establishing an accepting workplace for LGBTQ+ officers is to use the resources within your own department. Your own LGBTQ+ personnel will be fully aware of the current work environment and will be in a good place to advise you on change that may be needed. If you don’t know of any LGBTQ+ officers in your department, don’t be shy about reaching out for help. Out to Protect has resources available at outtoprotect.org.
About the author
Greg Miraglia is an LGBT activist, college professor of LGBT studies and criminal justice, author, radio host and producer and professional speaker. He has a Master’s Degree in Education, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business, and is a graduate of the California Commission On Peace Officer Standards and Training Master Instructor Development Program.
He is a Dean Emeritus at Napa Valley College and currently serves as the program coordinator for Criminal Justice Education and Training and LGBT Studies. He is also a part-time member of the faculty at City College of San Francisco and Santa Rosa Junior College. He teaches six different LGBT studies courses and a number of criminal justice classes.