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Cop And Attitude: Conference Strives To Educate, Encourage Diversity

By Tony Peregrin in News on Apr 21, 2010 6:20PM

A GOAL float at a past Chicago Pride parade; Photo by puroticorico
About 500 police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and other public safety members are expected to attend the 14th annual International LGBT Conference for Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice Professionals in Chicago (June 22—27)—which means Chicago’s Gay Pride festivities just got a whole lot more interesting (we’re suckers for a man or woman in uniform). “Only here, during Pride week, will our attendees have the once in a lifetime opportunity to collaborate, network, and learn new skills,” explains Jamie Richardson, president of LGPA/GOAL Chicago, Inc., which is hosting the event.

During the conference, attendees will receive LGBT diversity training in addition to law enforcement training, including seminars on computer forensics, correctional officer training, and tactical defense classes.

The first annual “Bridge to Unity” award, named after the theme and mission of the 14th annual conference will be presented to actress Sharon Gless (Cagney & Lacey, Queer as Folk, Hannah Free) during an event on Saturday at the Palmer House Hilton.

Chicagoist spoke with Ms. Richardson about homophobia within the law enforcement community, how the everyday LGBT citizen will benefit from this conference, and why Sharon Gless is such an enduring icon for gay and lesbian police officers.

Chicagoist: What is the biggest misconception police officers have about a group like LGPA-GOAL?

Jamie Richardson: The biggest misconception about LGPA-GOAL by fellow officers is that its members want to be put in a special category because we are LGBT employees. Many believe that we are advocating for special treatment, and that we consider ourselves separate and different from our fellow law enforcement officers because of our sexual orientation. It's quite the contrary—we don't want to be treated differently, we want to be treated equally and considered the same [as everyone else]. Although, many of us are in long-term relationships, and many of us are parents and have family-related concerns, and deal with the same everyday life issues that our heterosexual cohorts do—for some reason many [fellow officers] believe that we live in bars, are sexually promiscuous, and don't have family issues or children [to care for].

C: Will there be a lot of Chicago law enforcement officers participating in the conference?

JR: We have a lot of support from the Chicago Police Department, suburban department officers, and from the LGBT community at large which, I think, will ensure that this will be an extraordinary and unforgettable learning experience for all attendees. In addition to our community allies' support, we currently have 20 Chicago police officers on the planning committee, and 30 more assisting in various other capacities, such as presenting workshops, speeches or other types of support. We are predicting an attendance of at least a few hundred local officers.

C: Sharon Gless will be presented with the first annual Bridge to Unity award—why Sharon Gless?

JR: We chose Sharon Gless because she is a prime example of someone that generates change. Throughout her career, she has chosen many roles that LGBT people can relate to, and she has portrayed those characters with intense passion. The roles that she has played routinely inspire viewers to open their hearts to controversial issues, and in turn, challenges the audience to question their own assumptions and prejudices.

C: While filming Hannah Free in Chicago, I heard Ms. Gless was very generous with the entire crew.

JR: LGPA-GOAL had volunteered [to provide] security during the filming of Hannah Free here in Chicago, so I [along with other group members] had the opportunity to meet Ms. Gless in person. She was incredibly kind and down to earth. She even surprised some of the officers that were working the overnight [shift] with food. She is an amazing actress, but more over, an amazing human being with a kind soul.

C: Why do you think Sharon Gless is such an enduring icon for gay and lesbian officers?

JR: When I was a teenager, her role as detective Christine Cagney had a major impact on my life. That character made my dream a possibility—To become a tough, female police officer employed in a male-dominated career. Although the character of Cagney was not a lesbian, many lesbians could relate to that character, because of her strength and her ability to thrive in a "man's world." In fact, I know many gay men that relate to her for the same reasons. My far-fetched dream of becoming a police officer, and the underlying fear of accepting the fact that I was a lesbian, were all personal fears that seemed to be possible with that Cagney character.

C: This is the first time Chicago has hosted the annual International LGBT Conference for Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice Professionals. Tell me, Jamie, how does the everyday gay and lesbian citizen on the street directly benefit from a conference such as this?

JR: It's easy to forget why these types of events are so important, especially when we have a close knit group such as ours. However, everyday there is something in our lives that reminds us of the inequalities, discrimination, and hatred that still exist among us. We, as LGBT law enforcement officers, are not immune to these things. I truly believe that this conference will promote change with education, training, and lectures that will create a better understanding between law enforcement agencies, the officers, and the communities served.