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Beyond the wall: LGBT police

by Owen Keehnen
Sunday Sep 7, 2008

This is the conclusion of a two-part look at Chicago's LGBT police officers.

LGPA-GOAL ( Lesbian & Gay Police Association-Gay Officers Action League ) President Richardson has expressed her pride that LGPA-GOAL has helped increase the number of liaisons: "There was only one before and now there are three-Jose Rios in the 23rd District, Marty Ridge at the CPD Headquarters at 35th and Michigan, and I'm the liaison for the 20th.

Liaison officers are selected through the CPD, with some imput from LGPA-GOAL. It is an integral part of building mutual respect and understanding and facilitating communication between the department and the GLBT community. Richardson said, "There are certain situations that a GLBT person may feel uncomfortable speaking to a straight officer or may feel the need to go to a GLBT officer with a complaint or concern. Additionally, the liaison communicates LGBT issues or concerns to their LGBT community within their area or communicates the GLBT community's concerns to the department."

Ridge elaborated on the duties of the position: "We work on training, community outreach, anything that has to do with a GLBT hate crime, any kind of domestic violence. Basically, anything that has to do with the police and the GLBT community. We've also been trying to do community outreach to youth agencies city wide."

Richardson is hopeful that there will be more liaisons in the near future. "We are hoping to get South and West Side liaisons. I feel there is not enough attention focused on the LGBT communities in those areas."

According to Ridge, "We are trying to get them in every district or at least a contact in every district. The problem we're having is manpower shortages so a lot of us are being detailed to other things. Everything is on budget, need, and manpower restraints. There's a lot of politics."

The situation illustrates some of the ongoing frustrations faced by LGPA-GOAL, Richardson explained: "We don't get resistance. We get-it's gonna happen, We're working on it. There is a willingness, but there is always an excuse be it resources or manpower. That sort of thing seems to hold back our cause. Those videos seem a good sign that things are headed in the right direction. It cost a lot of money to make those so for them to invest in them is something. However, our overall goal is to get some sort of curriculum into the academy for recruits regarding the GLBT community. By way of a plan of action, we have to keep meeting with them, keep reminding them that we're here and we have this agenda. Training is difficult. We ask for it to happen from the top down because that's where you need to go with training. It's a lot of money because you have to take officers off their jobs, send them in, get them trained..."

We work on training, community outreach, anything that has to do with a GLBT hate crime, any kind of domestic violence.

Ridge added that " [ a ] lot of things we've been trying to push are due to an Amnesty Internatonal article from a couple years ago putting the Chicago Police Department at the top of the list for mistreatment of the GLBT community citing several instances that are still under investigation. It was part of the reason our first deputy at the time, Dana Starks, pulled Jamie, Jose and myself together and said, 'This is a problem. We need to fix it.'

"So we talked about getting liaisons and making them citywide and about the need for community outreach. The problem is it is not a major problem for the department right now. We're working on homicides, aggravated batteries, gangs and drugs take precedence which is totally understandable. So you can see where LGBT issues might take a backseat. However, it doesn't change the fact that there are issues out there and things that need to be taken care of. We're taking baby steps. Sometimes baby steps are better than no steps."

It's a frustrating situation, but one which hopefully will be addressed soon. The sharing of ideas and finding solutions by interforce and cross-departmental communication is one way to hasten the progress. Richardson is excited that Chicago will host The 14th Annual Conference of LGBT Criminal Justice Professionals in 2010: "The conference should be huge. This year, it was in D.C. It brings together law enforcement professionals and GOAL members from all over the world. Also attending are also those who support the organization and those who are curious about it-some straight officers, straight politicians, and interested parties. It brings together officers, department chiefs, mayors and committeemen, and makes them aware of all the things other departments are doing to improve LGBT relations. People come and think, 'What they're doing is a great idea. This is something we should be doing with the GLBT community' or 'Oh no, we're behind the times'. They come away with ideas for change and improvement."

LGPA-GOAL makes it easier for officers to be out, but there is still a long way to go. Richardson explained, "There are a lot of members who are closeted and won't come out, especially on the South and West sides. They are terrified over what they might face from co-workers or even bosses. It's a dilemma. What oftentimes happens is they come out and then get transfered. Things get swept under the rug and nothing is really accomplished. Most people don't want to take all that on or deal with it every day at work. But, there are also a lot of people who have been out since they came on and have never had a problem. Personally, I got some jeers and jokes behind my back, but no one has ever messed with me or my job because of my sexual identity."

The greatest problems Ridge faced were in his own mind. "I wanted to be on the force since I was a kid and had an opportunity to join the department in the mid-'80s, but fears and problems coming to terms with my sexuality kept me from doing it. I wound up going into the construction field for 16 years. Another opportunity to join the department came up about 12 years ago and, after coming to terms with who I was and having had already been an "out" construction worker with no problems, I was ready to be an "out" police officer. ... Our sexuality does not define us-it is just a small part of who we are. I am a father, a brother, a son, a friend, and a police officer who just happens to be gay." In the academy Ridge was voted the officer people most wanted to work with.

Likewise, Lipman never had much of a problem. "I never sensed that being out has caused me any problems. In years past I was told of comments that were made about my lifestyle that were less than favorable. It's helpful when you reach a point in your life where you pity people for their ignorance rather than become intimidated by it. At this point, I am a well-respected supervisor and for police officers that seems to outweigh other considerations. Of course, there is safety in rank and I would not assume that some officers do not suffer discrimination and harassment. It becomes the responsibility of those gay and lesbian officers who have attained rank to protect them from any unfair treatment."

Ridge agreed. "We want to be there for our fellow officers that are out and for those that still remain in the closet," he said. "We also want to show the Department and society that GLBT citizens and police officers are just like everyone else-and also just a little different. How boring life would be if we were all the same. The biggest way we can help is by just being out on a daily basis. It's so important to just be ourselves. We're trying to extend that through trainings, videos, lectures or outreach and by just being good examples."

The first part of this article can be found in the Aug. 20 issue of Windy City Times and online at www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com .

Copyright Windy City Times. For more articles from Chicago's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.windycitymediagroup.com


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