While police-community relations have been under the national microscope, members of law enforcement in the Philadelphia area are working to improve relationships inside departments when it comes to LGBT officers. They have formed a chapter of a fraternal organization called the Gay Officer Action League or GOAL.
Philadelphia’s LGBT Affairs director, Nellie Fitzpatrick knows a lot of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender police officers who have not come out to their colleagues “because the culture within the department is not necessarily accepting or positive or affirming in any way. In fact, it’s quite the opposite,” she added.
Fitzpatrick believes Greater Philadelphia GOAL will give LGBT officers and their families support to be themselves and encourage more respect from their fellow officers.
“Their membership is growing, the representation of the communities is diverse and I think that the next step is the cultural change that has to happen on the other side of the badge,” she said.
As of December 2013, members of the Philadelphia Police Department must adhere to a new directive for interacting with the LGBT community, including using transgender people’s preferred pronouns.
Departments can train police officers to abide by those rules, Fitzpatrick said, “but when they get in their radio patrol cars and then unload a bunch of negative, biased stuff, that can’t be tolerated either.”
Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel, the department’s LGBT liaison, insists the PPD has grown increasingly tolerant. Younger police cadets have grown up in a country that is more accepting of gays and lesbians, for example. But he recognizes the need for out police officers to have an organization that can support them. It is a longtime goal of retiring Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.
Bethel, who also is retiring at the end of this year, said having a department where police officers are more tolerant of each other will also improve relationships with the LGBT community.
“I think as they [GOAL] evolve and they build their infrastructure, they will also be able to go out in the community and really work on those issues about yeah, it is OK to talk to a police officer. It is OK to report your crime,” he said.
Greater Philadelphia GOAL joins other chapters in New York, New England and Chicago. The founders held their sixth meeting earlier this month when they decided to formally organize the chapter. The group is expected to select officers and board members by January, according to Bethel.