Page last updated at 10:51 GMT, Friday, 1 July 2005 11:51 UK

Gay police gathering hails advances

By Paula Dear
BBC News website

Sgt Jaiye Warwick
Staff are increasingly confident they can come out, says Sgt Warwick

To say it wasn't easy being a gay, black police recruit in Middlesbrough in the early 1990s feels like a bit of an understatement.

"Being black was enough, never mind being black and gay," laughs Sergeant Jaiye Warwick.

Despite the obstacles he's had to overcome since joining the police, his sense of humour remains well and truly intact.

Speaking from a European Gay Police conference in London, Sgt Warwick - who is now staff officer to a borough commander in the Metropolitan Police - says there was "no way" he would have considered coming out as gay then.

She said I wouldn't last five minutes in the force once people knew I had a handbag - she was a total bitch
Sgt Jaiye Warwick, Met Police

As the first black special constable in Cleveland, north east England, he felt he had enough to contend with, he says.

But before he even joined the regular force, he was "outed" by a female police sergeant.

"She saw me coming out of the only gay nightclub in Middlesbrough. She said I wouldn't last five minutes in the force once people knew I had a handbag. She was a total bitch."

While later reactions from colleagues were generally more positive, Sgt Warwick still had to deal with incidents such as fellow officers breaking into his locker and plastering it with explicit Dutch gay porn adverts.

Sergeant Chuck Limbert, San Francisco district, USA
There are only 26 openly gay male police officers in San Francisco, USA

"My boss was furious and demanded something be done. When someone put something else up in the toilets he threatened to get forensics in to find out who it was."

Lesbian, Gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) police officers and staff are gathering at the conference to discuss a range of issues.

The monitoring of people's sexual orientations within the force, engaging with communities, and exchanging views with colleagues from abroad are just some of the items on the agenda.

The Gay Police Association's (GPA) two-day Celebrate meeting will culminate with 220 officers and staff - 100 of them in uniform - taking part in the Pride London parade on Saturday.

Fresh from discussions about the setting up a national scheme of anonymously monitoring the number of lesbian, gay and bisexual officers, Rennie Brown calls the move a "massive step".

Resign

As the staff LGBT co-ordinator for South Yorkshire Police - where she has worked for 17 years - she's well-placed to know how far the movement has come.

"I never thought we would get to this. When I joined I soon realised it was not a safe place for me to come out. Most of the homophobia was targeted at men, but it was the whole culture.

"During my first year I thought I would have to resign, but then I started setting up local networks. I thought 'I can't be the only one'."

Rennie Brown, South Yorkshire Police
Rennie Brown used to feel "unsafe" as a gay woman in the police

She adds that she was optimistic to think then that within a decade gay people would be fully accepted, but acknowledges the advances that have been made.

Gay officers marching in uniform at Pride, the monitoring of sexual orientation, and changes in the recruitment process are all forces for good, she says.

"For me it's all about creating a better understanding within the community, which has historically seen us as being homophobic."

One of the main messages being driven home at the conference is that there is still a "hierarchy of minorities", with LGBT issues still often treated as a lower priority.

I was out from day one - I didn't apologise to my parents and I was not going to apologise to my employer for who I am
Chuck Limbert, San Francisco PD

Devon and Cornwall Deputy Chief Constable Nigel Arnold is leading the Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo) gay and lesbian work.

"This is all about raising the issue up on the agenda. It's been in the shadow of the race agenda".

His view is echoed later during a question and answer session with Home Secretary Charles Clarke.

Homophobia 'covert'

One officer asks when gay people will be afforded the same legal protection against hate crimes as racial and religious groups.

The minister has no timetable but concedes there is a strong case for new legislation.

But the distance travelled in recent decades should not be dismissed, says Sergeant Chuck Limbert of San Francisco police, who is attending the conference to exchange ideas and experiences.

GPA badge
The GPA's 1992 launch in a national police magazine caused controversy

"The UK police seem more advanced in terms of organisation and structures on LGBT issues," he says.

"We haven't got where you have in the last 15 years.

"And your numbers seem so much more," he adds, as hundreds of GPA members file into the hall to hear the home secretary speak.

Only 26 male officers have chosen to come out in San Francisco, he says, while the number of openly lesbian officers is nearer the 200 mark.

"There's still a battle going on there, as there is here. There is homophobia, but it's covert.

"I was out from day one. I didn't apologise to my parents and I was not going to apologise to my employer for who I am."



SEE ALSO
UK police join US Gay Pride march
27 Jun 05 |  Southern Counties
Out in force
21 Mar 05 |  Magazine
Gay hate crimes 'go unreported'
18 Jun 05 |  Oxfordshire

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