NYPD cops can now check a box to disclose their sexual orientation in their personnel records in what appears to be a first for law enforcement nationwide.
The initiative, first suggested by the NYPD’s Gay Officers Action League, is expected to help the nation’s largest police force more effectively recruit members of the LGBTQ community. And it sends a clear message that those officers count as much as any other demographic group, said GOAL’s president, NYPD Det. Brian Downey.
“The feeling at GOAL was if they don’t count you, then you don’t count,” Downey said.
“When you’re making change here, when you’re standing up here, you also by extension make things better in other agencies. You make things better for people that are not sure about their sexual identity or weren’t open to sharing it in the workspace.”
Tanya Meisenholder, the NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Equity and Inclusion, said the initiative is voluntary — and confidential — and that she hopes as more officers feel comfortable identifying their sexual orientation those still leery about doing so will have a change of heart.
“I think it sends a message to the community that we are an inclusive police department, one that is accepting of whoever it is that may come to us,” she said.
That hasn’t always been the case.
The NYPD has a long history of antagonism towards anyone not heterosexual.
In fact, the 1969 police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village gay bar, sparked a nationwide gay rights movement. The raid, the last straw for a community fed up with police harassment, sparked a series of violent protests.
Twelve years later, a police union official at a City Hall hearing over the city’s gay rights bill testified he knew of no homosexual cops. Minutes later, Sgt. Charles Cochrane testified, stunning the establishment when he identified himself as such and noting gays are “not cruel, wicked, cursed, sick or possessed by demons.”
“I am very proud of being a New York City policeman,” Cochrane said at the time. “And I’m equally proud of being gay.”
Cochrane helped form GOAL less than a year later. Three years ago, as the Stonewall 50th anniversary neared, then-NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill apologized for what happened that night.
NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell announced the sexual orientation initiative, which also applies to school safety and traffic agents and other NYPD civilian employees, in an internal email.
It took effect March 7 and allows those who choose to take part to identify as straight or heterosexual, lesbian or gay, bi-sexual, pansexual or asexual. Cops can also check a box saying they prefer not to say or not check any box at all.
Meisenholder says no other city agency — and apparently no other law enforcement agency in the U.S. — provides its employees the same option.
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