Becoming visible

MI-GOAL works to change the homophobia often found in police culture

By Tara Cavanaugh

Back in the early 1990s, when R. Cole Bouck was working in the Michigan Department of Corrections, he found himself suddenly forced out of the closet.

For a couple of months, it made his life hell.

"I wasn't hiding, I hadn't necessarily led a secret life, but it wasn't something that was out there," he says. He survived the harassment, but "after that, I made a commitment to myself to do what I could to make sure that nobody else would go through that."

Bouck is the founder and president of MI-GOAL, the Michigan Gay Officers Action League. Just over a year old, its 13 members are working to make LGBTs more accepted in the traditional, macho culture of the public safety professions.

A top-down approach

"The attitudes filter down from the top in law enforcement, says Erin Linn, an officer in Meridian Township and MI-GOAL's treasurer. "It's a paramilitary organization. We have a chain of command."

Bouck, who now works as an administrative assistant in MDOC's central office, has spent the past year talking about MI-GOAL to any leader who will listen: "Chiefs, directors, state police - you name it," he says.

When he calls to set up meetings with those leaders, he's been met with a variety of reactions. Some are enthusiastic about MI-GOAL, some are hesitant and some don't call him back.

He's taken this approach, instead of just seeking out other public safety workers who may be LGBT, because, well, they're hard to find.

"In our profession, being a very conservative, traditional culture, people are very reluctant to be obvious or to be out, more so than other professions," he says. "So it's hard to know who the (LGBTs) are."

To the hesitant leaders, Bouck tries to explain that public safety professionals, who trust coworkers with their life and safety, shouldn't have to worry that their sexuality will affect how they're supported or treated - especially in dangerous situations. "Macho environment or not, it's about them being able to be relaxed and do the best they can do and be the best they can be, every day, being who they really are," he says.

At the very least, Bouck encourages them to distribute MI-GOAL's pamphlet, either via email or on paper. Many have agreed, which Linn says is a positive development: "So that every single employee in our agency can at least know we exist. Whether that applies to themselves or they can recommend it to a friend or coworker, right now that's our main effort."

Healing the relationship with LGBT citizens

"The LGBT community historically has not had a positive perception of law enforcement, and rightfully so," Linn says.

"I think MI-GOAL can work very hard to change that perception. And build a bridge between the LGBT community and law enforcement to try and repair some damage."

One way MI-GOAL is doing that is by getting police officers to march in the Michigan Pride parade this weekend.

Michelle Bryant, a detective and LGBT liaison for the Lansing Police Department, says she's been asking supportive coworkers to walk alongside the MI-GOAL float. As far as Bryant knows, this is the first year the parade will have police marching in support.

As of press time, she knew of six officers who pledged to walk in the parade, but she hopes for more. "I'm confident that we'll have a good show of support there," she says.

UPDATE: As of Thursday, Bouck confirmed that Lansing Police and the Lansing Fire Department will have vehicles in Saturday's parade for Michigan Pride.

Bouck also wants to partner with other agencies to offer trainings for public safety workers, with the goal of getting the field more comfortable with LGBT coworkers and the LGBT citizens they protect. He says MI-GOAL could create its own trainings, or it could step in and contribute to diversity trainings offered by organizations such as Equality Michigan.

No matter how great a diversity training session may be, ultimately "cops want to hear from cops," Bouck says.

Linn agrees: "Law enforcement is a very closed community. It makes a difference coming from one of their own."

Change takes time

Changing the police culture won't happen overnight, just like creating MI-GOAL didn't happen overnight. The organization, which is a chapter of a national organization called LEGAL, Law Enforcement Gays and Lesbians, was a wish of Bouck's for ten years.

Bouck now calls his unexpected on-the-job outing "the best thing that ever happened to me."

Since his outing, Bouck fought for - and won - the right to attend LEGAL conferences on company time. Initially, his request to attend the LEGAL conferences was denied, although other professional conferences for other minorities were approved. Bouck also slowly gathered support and established MI-GOAL, and now he's slowly and steadily gathering support for MI-GOAL in precincts across the state.

This means that when he says he'll follow up with a police chief who is hesitant about distributing MI-GOAL pamphlets, he means it.

How does he keep up his energy, especially when change seems to happen so slowly?

"I can't afford to give up," he says. "I can't imagine not doing this work. I can't imagine nobody doing it."

Learn more at http://www.mi-goal.com.

MI Marriage Trial

Michigan Same Sex Couples Demand Respect And Equal Treatment

Michigan Leaders React To Feds Recognition Of Marriages

MI Marriage: Schuette Asks For Full Appeals Court Review

The Stay Delayed Allows 315 Couples To Wed In State

Gay Marriage Defines Schuette's Reelection Campaign

Snyder Says Schuette Going Against Trend

Sixth Circuit Continues Stay

Michigan Marriage Ban Struck Down

Michigan Makes History With First Marriages

Elected Officials, Advocates Petition Schuette To Drop Marriage Aappeal

Pictures from Ingham County - Getting Married

Pictures from Oakland County Clerk's Office - Part 1

Pictures from the Oakland County Clerk's office - Part 2

Pictures from the Oakland County Clerk's Office - Part 3

Pictures from Washtenaw County

White Nationalist Group Files Brief Supporting AG's Appeal In Marriage Ruling

Discredited Witness Part Of Right-Wing Cabal

Schauer Celebrates Overturn Of Michigan Marriage Ban

Equality Michigan Circulating Petition to Drop Appeal

Why Are Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette Wasting Michigan Taxpayer Dollars On A Costly Appeal?

Michigan Marriage Ban Co-Author Goes 'Moral'

BTL's Wedding Expo: Like Pride in April

Snyder Says Marriages Invalid

Elected Officials, Advocates Petition Schuette To Drop Marriage Appeal

Request To Remove Stay Based On Process And Substance

Schuette Lies To Satisfy Political Base

DOCUMENTS: The decision, the stay, and more

BREAKING: Holder Asked To Recognize Michigan Marriages

Michigan Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

BREAKING: Sixth Circuit Court Of Appeals Issues Temporary Stay On Michigan Case

BREAKING: Same-Sex Couples Across Michigan Get Hitched

BREAKING: Judge Friedman Declares Michigan's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Judge Could Rule Late Today In Mich. Marriage Ban

Michigan Marriage Trial: And Now We Wait

Editor's Viewpoint: Our Long Journey To Justice

Federal Marriage Case Decisions Outside Michigan In Circuit Court of Appeals

Peers Distance Themselves As Regnerus Takes The Stand

Marriage Supporters, Protestors Brave Cold At Courthouse

Highlights From Michigan Same-Sex Marriage Hearing

Brown Says Schuette Instructed Clerks To Defy Court

Michigan Marriage Equality Trial Begins Second Week

Marriage Equality Trial Opens : Science v. Fear

Michigan Marriage Center Prepares State For The Possibility!

Michigan Marriage Case Begins

A Trial Full of Experts: Incredible and Not So Credible, In Hazel Park Case

like us on facebook follow us on twitter follow us on google+