Imagine working in a job you always dreamed of having and working in a career that excites and fulfills you in every way. Consider what it would be like to be highly successful in your work, admired by your peers, but always fearful that if anyone you work with discovered your secret, it could all be over. This is what it is like to be a closeted gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender member of law enforcement. And in the fire service and emergency medical services profession, the condition is even worse because of the common housing situation required while working a 24 to 48 hour shift.
It’s true that society as a whole has become more accepting of gay and lesbian people, but homophobia continues to be pervasive in much of the public safety arena. Most states still do not have any employment protection against harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation. Imagine being fired from the job you love because of who you are.
American Heroes Coming Out From Behind The Badge is Greg Miraglia’s second book intended to show examples of how police officers, firefighters, and EMS professionals have been able to come out and be successful on the job. The stories come from across the country and tell of a very personal and courageous journey. They are intended to both inspire and educate. The book contains a section on how to come out as well as a section with resources and associations supporting LGBT public safety professionals.
This book is ideal for anyone who is struggling to come out as well as for straight allies who want to learn more about how to support their LGBT colleagues.
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American Heroes Coming Out From Behind The BadgeStories from Police, Fire, and EMS Professionals "Out" on the Job
By Greg Miraglia
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Greg Miraglia
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOut On the Job and Proud of it—Greg Miraglia
As I sat in the courtroom in the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco, I remembered my last visit some fifteen years earlier while testifying as an expert witness for a workplace discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit. The shiny marble, tall ceilings, and mahogany furniture make you feel cold, reserved, and just a bit intimidated. The large seal of the United States federal district court hung on the wall above the judge's seat, and a lone American flag sat to the right of the bench. The gallery benches were much like the pews I remembered from church, designed purposely to be uncomfortable so that one couldn't dose off if one tried. As I looked around the room and listened to the quiet whispers, the room did in fact feel much like a church. There is a certain similar reverence in a courtroom as there is in a church, and I'm sure a great deal of praying goes on in both venues during the normal course of the business. But today, I wasn't there for a trial or to testify. It was for something even more surreal.
The day's event began with a DEA agent taking his place at the podium and welcoming the 150 or so people in the room to the very first multiagency pride celebration for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, United States Attorney's Office, and General Services Administration. It was June 30, 2010, the last day of National Pride Month and the very first pride celebration event for the LGBT employees of these federal agencies. There we were sitting in a federal courtroom on the same floor of the federal building where Judge Walker heard the first federal same-sex marriage case.
The FBI's special agent in charge of the five-hundred-person San Francisco office was the first to speak. She introduced all of her second- in-commands who were also in the room and who all were there to support their LGBT colleagues. As I listened to her speak and stared at the United States seal on the big marble wall, I started to realize how much has changed in my lifetime relative to the gay community. In the year I was born, 1963, this same group would have assembled in this federal courtroom not to celebrate gay pride, but to hear a criminal trial with the FBI on one side of the investigation and the gays on the other. There would not have been a celebration taking place and certainly no feelings of pride. And certainly, if there were any gay members of the FBI in the room, they would have either been deeply closeted or sitting at the defendant's table fighting for their jobs or defending themselves against a criminal charge related to being gay, because in that year, sodomy and many other homosexual acts were illegal.
I was invited to this event to be the keynote speaker representing the Matthew Shepard Foundation and my colleagues on the board of directors. My husband, Tony, sat next to me as I listened to my introduction. Here are some of the words I shared with the audience that day.
Thank you for the great honor of representing the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and on behalf of my good friends Judy and Dennis Shepard, their son Logan, and my colleagues on the Board of Directors of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, congratulations for coming together to celebrate Pride Month.
I'd like you to stop for just a minute and think about where we all are today. Here we sit in a federal courtroom celebrating gay pride. Remember, the whole idea of a pride celebration started with a violence confrontation between the police and the gay community. And today, we have come together, out and proud members of law enforcement, to celebrate gay pride in a federal courtroom.
Let me begin by telling you briefly about the Matthew Shepard Foundation and what it is we do. Our primary mission includes replacing hate with understanding, compassion, and acceptance. Since Matt was murdered twelve years ago, our most major effort was to get federal hate crimes law changed to include sexual orientation and gender identity. As everyone in this room knows, we finally got it done in October 2009 with the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Protection Act. And even though California has been way ahead in this area, this new act will provide much needed support for local law enforcement's efforts to investigate and prosecute hate crimes by providing invaluable support from many of the agencies represented in this room.
I never knew Matthew Shepard—or Matt Shepard, as he was known to his close friends and family. From talking with his parents and close friends, I know that just before his murder, Matt discovered a passion for political science and dreamed of someday changing the world. Matt never understood how one person could hate another simply because of who they were. After seeing what has happened after this death, I believe Matt has changed the world in ways he could have never imagined. His story has created many visible changes, but many more that are largely invisible, and I would like to share just one of them with you today.
In 1978, I was a freshman in high school and started my law enforcement career as a police explorer scout. I knew I was gay, and I discovered quickly that I could not be out and successful in law enforcement at the same time. At the time Matt was murdered, I remember hearing about it but didn't pay close attention to the details about what happened. In fact, it wasn't until 2001 after seeing a documentary called Anatomy of a Hate Crime that I learned the graphic details of this horrific hate crime. I was so moved by Matt's story that I wanted to do something about it, and this lead me to meeting Judy Shepard and getting involved with the foundation's educational work.
In the years that followed, I shared Matt's story with various groups, including my students in the police academy where I was then working as the director. I traveled with Judy from time to time and heard her talk over and over again about the importance of coming out and sharing your story. She told audiences that this was the most effective way of changing hearts and minds and eliminating homophobia.
I felt good about my work with the foundation but knew I could do more. Finally in 2004, after hearing Judy's voice and thinking about Matt's story, I found the courage to come out. It was the most difficult thing I've ever done, and if it weren't for Matthew Shepard and my friendship with his mother, Judy, I don't know if I would have ever found the courage to do it. Of course, today, it's hard to remember what life was like before coming out, and I am but one of many people who Matt's life has changed forever.
Now despite all of my fears, what I have learned since coming out six years ago is that I severely underestimated my family and friends. I still believe that, as a profession, law enforcement is twenty years behind the rest of the civil rights movement in its acceptance and understanding of LGBT people, but I also never realized how right Judy Shepard was about the power of sharing your story. Some of my colleagues in law enforcement were very homophobic. I can tell you with absolute certainty that, after I came out to them, their views about gay people changed for the better.
Sure, we can enact antidiscrimination and workplace harassment laws, but nothing is more powerful in changing the hearts and minds of our straight colleagues than to come out and to share your personal story. This is how we will eliminate homophobia in law enforcement. It is also how I believe we will truly achieve "liberty and justice for all." It takes courage and confidence to be out, much like it takes to be a justice employee. We all entered this vocation because we believe in principles of a free society and in service to others. But we cannot force people to change their attitudes and opinions with laws. We must use our personal stories to cause a free will change of heart. My partner, Tony, who is here with me today, has always told me that people will be as comfortable with you as you are with yourself.
To all of you who are out and proud here today, congratulations and thank you for your personal courage. Continue to have pride in the work you do and in who you are. You don't need to wait for June each year to celebrate your pride. Celebrate it daily.
I have to say that the entire event was first class. From the time Agent Kari called me the night before to introduce herself as our personal host and guide for the day to the presentation of a plaque to Tony and me in appreciation for participating, the FBI, DEA, GSA, and US Attorney's Office did it right. It was a very humbling experience to speak before such an amazing group of professionals, and I felt so proud to be among them as an out member of the law enforcement profession.
It seems like a lifetime ago that I started writing my first book, Coming Out from Behind the Badge, back in 2005. And yet, it was only five years ago that I started to write my story, but so much has happened since that time to me personally and in the world. No one gets rich from writing a book, and since I self-published the first book, I'm not sure that I've even broken even financially. It is used as a required textbook in an administration of justice class at Santa Rosa Junior College. However, the people I have met and the opportunities I've been given because of the book are all very special moments in my life and have made it all so worth it. The e-mails I've received from people—young and old—some out and many still deeply closeted, have brought both smiles and tears. My original goals for the book were pretty basic and included wanting to provide information and inspiration for LGBT law enforcement professionals to come out and to start living their lives as they were created to be. I've had the great honor of watching this actually happen, and it fills my heart with more joy than any amount I might have received from a royalty check.
So let me take you back and catch you up on what has happened since I wrote my story for the first book with the hope that you will see not only how coming out has changed my life entirely, but how society and the law enforcement profession is changing rapidly and for the better. When I think about my life before coming out, I cannot really remember how it felt, and I don't really remember who or how I was before I said those words on March 10, 2004, for the first time to another person. That day was like being reborn and becoming whole. Many of the days and months that followed were not without fear, intimidation, and some very uncomfortable moments, but it was so entirely worth it. My only regret is that I waited so long to do it.
Tony has told me on more than on occasion that I wouldn't be who I am today if I had come out earlier, and he reminds me that our path in life is full of reason and purpose. I'm pretty much over looking back and, while I would be lying if I said I didn't wish I was out when I was in my twenties, I know there is no way to go back now. Spending time regretting isn't productive and won't accomplish anything. Instead, I'm living life as a whole person every day and spending my time ridding myself of whatever residual guilt might still reside in my mind. I would be lying if I said it was easy, because it isn't. But if I have any regrets about any part of the process, actually coming out isn't one of them.
On January 27, 2008, I officially released the first book Coming Out from Behind the Badge and a website for the book. We held the release event at the A Different Light Bookstore, located in the heart of the Castro in San Francisco. I chose that place rather than a local bookstore because I had learned that already gay bookstores were suffering from the advent of e-books and the mainstreaming of gay literature. I spent so many years avoiding the Castro for fear of being seen that I wanted to "officially" come out with the book in the heart of the bay area's gay community. The Castro was also the place where the police and the gay community clashed and fought for many years. It is also the place that the great Harvey Milk lived, worked, and helped to mend the relationship between the police and the gay community. For me, the Castro was the only place to release a book about gay police.
As confident as I was about writing the book and as much of a desire as I had to want to help other gay cops, I was somewhat terrified as the release party began. For the better part of twenty-five years, I worked so hard to keep my private life a secret from everyone. And now, not only was I standing in the heart of the gay community I had avoided, but I was presenting all of my secrets to the world in print. Even though I had been out by then for almost four years, as Tony started the reading in front of a small crowd that gathered in the bookstore, my heart pounded. As expected, I signed a stack of books, received amazing support from friends and some strangers who attended the release event, and in just two hours, it was over, and the book was officially out.
In 2008, I was asked to facilitate a discussion about coming out at work and to sit on a panel of authors at the twelfth annual conference for LGBT law enforcement professionals in Washington DC. The conference was hosted by the DC-area Gay Officers Action League. If you are not aware, there are Law Enforcement Gay Action Leagues (LEGAL) and Gay Officer Action Leagues (GOAL) that are both part of an international organization. There are many LEGAL and GOAL groups located around the country in some places where you might least expect them to be, including Alabama and Iowa. We have a list of all of these gay law enforcement organizations listed on the book website at www.comingoutfrombehindthebadge.com and in the appendix of this book.
Anyway, the conference that year was scheduled during the same week as National Police Week in Washington DC. This is an annual event held each year to honor those officers who died in the line of duty the previous year. It's a major event for the law enforcement profession. There is a huge memorial there that includes the names of every peace officer killed in the line of duty. Family members and colleagues travel to this memorial to remember their loved one and to copy the etching of his or her name from the granite slabs that create the memorial space.
It just so happened that Aaron, one of the program coordinators at the police academy who worked for me, had been trying to get me to go to police week with him and a group of officers who attend annually. Since the conference was the same week, I decided to go this year. I was to room with Aaron and one of the other officers who was coordinating this trip. I told Aaron about the conference, and he immediately expressed total support and an interest in coming to the session I was to facilitate. I was excited about the trip, as I had not been to DC before, but I felt uneasy about traveling with a group of straight guys who, other than Aaron, I was not yet out to. Before coming out, I found so much more in common with my straight colleagues because there was nothing exposed about me that was uncommon. I could "hang" with the guys in a bar, drink, talk shop, and fit right in. But things were now different, and for the first time, I really experienced discomfort and a lack of commonality with these colleagues.
Excerpted from American Heroes Coming Out From Behind The Badge by Greg Miraglia Copyright © 2010 by Greg Miraglia. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Out On the Job and Proud of It—Greg Miraglia....................1
Blue Before Pink—Peter Thoshinksy....................27
Richard J. Swallow....................87
An Interview with Robert Parsons....................139
An Interview with Bill....................145
An Interview with Kyle Ross....................149
Replacing Shame with Pride....................157