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Creating a space for everyone


September 30, 2016
By Jean Turner

810 words – MR

Creating a space for everyone

by Jean Turner

The inaugural World LBGT Conference for Criminal Justice Professionals (WLCCJP), held in August in Amsterdam, attracted participants from 26 countries with a theme of It was a life changing event for RCMP constables Brendan Harkness and Anick Fournier and CM Jean Turner.

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Canadian participation was impressive with personnel from Toronto, Peel Regional, Calgary, Ottawa, York Regional and Hamilton police, the OPP and officers from Correctional Service of Canada.

The conference showed how important it is for officers to remain vigilant, honour their sexual identity and be positive examples despite criticisms and hate that may be directed at them. While that may not be perceived as a problem, officers told how hiding their sexuality or gender identity from co-workers or being persecuted for being ‘out’ affected their careers and personal lives in ways still all too common, even in Canada.

Dressed in full red serge uniform, Harkness shared his personal journey, which began 10 years ago as a young man visiting Amsterdam trying to find his way in life and went full circle with his participation on the World Police Boat in the parade.

As a young gay man he couldn’t imagine himself becoming a Mountie until he met three gay officers in Amsterdam during his first visit.

{Stories from abroad}

The only openly gay Greek police officer, Lt. Michael Lolis, was denied permission to wear his uniform and his agency refused to support his attendance. Despite the potential for negative repercussions, he paid his own way to Amsterdam, ready to celebrate who he is, and was relegated to watching the parade from the sidelines.

Adrian Jjuuko, a Ugandan human rights lawyer and advocate, engages police and judiciary on LGBTQ rights within the country’s largely hostile legal environment. He co-ordinated the successful 2014 effort to challenge the Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda’s Constitutional Court and is leading a challenge to the act at the East African Court of Justice.

News broke during the conference that Ugandan police had raided a local pride event and arrested and beat many participants, despite previously giving permission for it to take place.

In other distressing news, it was learned police officers and prosecutors in at least eight countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Zambia, Uganda, Cameroon and Kenya) have asked for or ordered forced anal examinations on persons accused of consensual same sex conduct. Purportedly this was to gather “evidence” of homosexual behaviour, despite the UN Special Rapporteur deeming it a form of torture, or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that is “medically worthless.”

Several transgender police officers told of their challenging, and in some cases heart-wrenching, struggles to transition within their workplace.

Julie Callahan, a California district attorney, recounted her experience, which led her to establish the Transgender Community of Police & Sheriffs (TCOPS) to help other transgender officers live their authentic self.

Callahan began her career in 1978 as a reserve police officer with the Fremont Police Department. She was outed while doing a polygraph test for a regular officer’s position. The department asked her to resign and withdraw her application because she was gender-questioning.

She was hired as a police officer by San Jose in 1981 and eventually became an experienced detective. After beginning transition, she became the victim of a number of bigoted and hateful incidents, including physical assaults and threats by coworkers. Officers refused to back her up on dangerous calls and she was never given another permanent detective posting.

There was also news about transgender challenges in Pakistan, where police often arrest and beat men who appear dressed or ornamented like a woman. They face up to two-years in prison for the offence of cross-dressing.

Fournier taped a TEDtalk at the conference about the importance of LGBTQ self-identification in the workplace. It included discussing the importance of giving employees the opportunity to identify as LGBTQ and for agencies to know who their employees are to ensure they can provide services, workplace policies and respect.

{Follow-up}

Attendees will not forget the lessons and many inspiring personal stories they heard at the conference. While policies can change behaviour, true understanding comes with relating our own struggles and realizing that we all have a story to share.

The biggest lesson learned was that in this rapidly changing and shrinking world, we must create a space for everyone.

{The future}

The Toronto Police Service, with assistance from Serving With Pride, will host the next WLCCJP in Toronto in 2019.

There was heartfelt thanks and gratitude to the Amsterdam Police Roze in Blauw and the Dutch government for hosting such an extraordinary conference. Their leadership inspired attendees to continue moving forward with the resolve to do what is right and lead by example.

BIO

Jean Turner is a civilian member of the RCMP “O” Division Communications & Media Relations branch. Contact: jean.turner@rcmp-grc.gc.ca


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