CONN – Pride at a Price… doing the right thing
December 29, 2015
By Stephanie Conn
938 words – MR
Pride at a price… doing the right thing
by Stephanie Conn
Sexual orientation and gender identity are important aspects of an individual’s well-being, for better or worse. For better, sexual attraction to another is healthy and adaptive, whether the other individual is the same or another gender.
Having confidence and pride in one’s identity, in all respects, is also a hallmark of health. Having support and acceptance from others relating to sexual orientation and gender identity is also vital for well-being. We are social beings and a sense of belonging is a fundamental need.
Unfortunately, not everyone is accepting or supportive of others’ sexual orientations or gender identities. Sometimes the rejection and judgment is directly aimed at individuals, with ridiculing comments, demeaning questions and cruel micro aggressions. (The term micro aggressions refers to discriminatory behaviour targeting socially marginalized groups.)
Other times the rejection and judgment is less direct, such as by telling jokes or stories about others’ sexual orientations or gender identities, but are still offensive and hurtful to the individual whose sexual orientation or gender identity is being attacked. Making matters worse, when a person responds with distress due to being judged or mistreated by others, their normal reaction of distress becomes the “proof” to others that the person is compromised in some way, resulting in further stigmatization and mistreatment. This, in turn, worsens their distress. It is a vicious cycle.
I want you to imagine for a moment that your sexual orientation has been deemed unacceptable by your family, friends, co-workers and society. You are now being pressured to be attracted to a different gender. Seriously, think about it for a moment. How do you feel? How will you manage this conflict within you? As you can now imagine, feeling this kind of pressure can create a host of mental health issues – low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, interpersonal difficulties, to name but a few.
You can redo this mental exercise with your gender identity – if you were born a male, you must now be a female even if you don’t want to be. Deep down you identify as male but cannot freely be what you are due to the stigma attached to you embracing this identity. This is the agony that a person with gender dysphoria suffers.
Now let’s try imagining a different scenario. Your family, friends, co-workers and society accept you as you are. You can openly be attracted to who attracts you and be the gender that you know you are. What a liberating scenario! You do not have to be conflicted about how you will be in the presence of others because you don’t have to fear judgement and rejection. The likelihood of developing low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, or interpersonal difficulties relating to your sexual orientation or gender identity is virtually nonexistent now.
The traditional police culture makes it especially difficult if you are a LGBTQ police officer. Traditional police culture has a very strong push for conformity and tends to favour a very masculine persona. This may encourage more judgement and pressure to conform to this notion of the ideal police officer.
Tragically, research shows that LGBTQ police officers are not treated fairly in the workplace, have to prove themselves more than others, and still being denied career advancement opportunities<1>. For this reason, as well as treatment by co-workers, LGBTQ police officers may not reveal their orientation or identity in the workplace.
A recent and very interesting study of LGBTQ officers was conducted by Joe Couto of Royal Roads University<2>. Couto found that participants felt that despite the conservative police culture, there was less pressure now to conform to a traditional macho police role. Participants spoke of the progress in recent years made by police agencies in embracing diversity.
Participants, however, indicated that homophobic comments were still made, and worse yet, tolerated by supervisors. Sadly, these comments led some officers to feel they had to hide their sexuality in the workplace. This was especially true for gay males.
Participants in Couto’s study suggested that teaching officers about diversity instead of punishing them for discriminatory harassment reflects the agency’s tolerance of such discriminatory practices.
The take home message I draw from reading Couto’s study and my own work with LGBTQ first responders is that there are ways that fellow officers and supervisors can either enhance the well-being of their LGBTQ officers or harm it. Harmful behaviours include making insensitive jokes or comments and being complicit with these shameful behaviours by others. Not saying anything, or worse yet, laughing implies that you agree with these homophobic judgments, even if you don’t.
If you are a supervisor, you have the opportunity to condemn these behaviours and support your officer(s). Even if you are not a supervisor, you can let others know that their behaviour is not okay. This might put you at odds with the offending officer(s) but the alternative scenario is having to live with the regret of not doing the right thing for a colleague.
As police officers, you know that doing the right thing is not always easy but it is the most honourable and compassionate choice.
Miller, S.L., Forest, K.B., & Jurik, N.C. (2003). Diversity in blue: Lesbian and gay police officers in a masculine occupation. Men and Masculinities, 5, 355-372.
Couto, J. (2014). Covered in Blue: Police Culture and LGBT Police Officers in the Province of Ontario. Master’s Thesis, Royal Roads University.
Dr. Stephanie Conn is a former police officer and currently a clinical psychologist practicing in Vancouver. She is a regular