Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

The right to march in uniform

You may have noticed during the week that there’s something going on with cops, both from here and abroad. This week, 130 LGBT police met in Dublin for the annual European Gay Police Association conference, an agenda which included a …

Fri, Jun 29, 2012, 10:48

   

You may have noticed during the week that there’s something going on with cops, both from here and abroad. This week, 130 LGBT police met in Dublin for the annual European Gay Police Association conference, an agenda which included a meeting with President Higgins. The conference coincided with a study from researchers at DCU that examined the experiences of LGB gardai.

Committee members of the European Gay Police Association (EGPA) Sgt Paul Franey, Det Garda Laura Bolter, Garda Maria Keogh, Garda Paul Clancy, Garda Donagh Mannix, Sgt Mark McNulty, Garda Ray Moloney, Garda Joy McDonnell and Garda Niall OConnor at the sixth EGPA conference in Dublin Castle. Photographs: Brenda Fitzsimons

There’s been plenty of coverage of the conference, including an interview on the John Murray Show on Radio One with one of the authors of that DCU research where the host asked that if it’s so hard to be a gay garda, then why be one? It’s a question we’ve heard before, something along the lines of “if it’s so hard to be a working mother, then why be one?” A gay friend of mine who is in the Air Corps tweeted me saying that if she for one second thought about how difficult being gay and in the armed forces is, she wouldn’t be in her job, but what was the point of not doing something just because it was difficult?

Attitudes outside and within the gardai are evolving, of course. There has been a huge change within the gardai over the past few years. G-Force has been established. The Garda Síochána won employer of the year at the GALAS (Gay and Lesbian Awards) in 2010. And relations between the LGBT community and the gardai are warm, thanks to the grassroots work of gay liaison officers.

But all is not rosy. Talk to any gay or lesbian garda and they’ll regale you with endless stories of a culture of “slagging”, homophobic jokes, and ultimately, bullying. Most choose to remain closeted or only open to a fellow LGB garda. Like teachers, many doubt their chances of promotion because of their sexuality. Occasionally cases come to light, like this one, or some brave gardai come out and talk about snide comments they had to put up with.

Roisin Ingle writes today about the ban gardai face when it comes to marching in uniform at Pride marches, primarily tomorrow’s Dublin Pride march. While the visiting forces will be marching in uniform, our own gardai will be in plain clothes. Suzy Byrne blogs about this own goal by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

Gardai marching in uniform at Pride marches sends several positive messages. Seeing police march in uniform at Pride is incredibly emotional. It sends a message of solidarity with the LGBT community who unfortunately encounter a different set of infringements upon their safety than the heterosexual population does. It is also an important statement that a job which is traditionally male, conservative and heterosexual, is evolving and that LGB people within the force are comfortable and proud to be visible. Those gardai who choose to be visible send a message to fellow police officers who feel forced to remain in the closet at work due to homophobic bullying and a general intolerance of anything outside of macho heterosexual ‘norms’. Go to any Pride march in a city around the UK, Europe or beyond and the police force are marching in uniform, and probably receive the biggest cheers, because LGBT people know it’s especially hard to come out and be visible in conservative professions.

The various nitpicking surrounding the issue – that gardai should never be in uniform off duty (which doesn’t seem to be an issue during the St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York), that the uniform is the property of the State, that the Garda Commissioner does not have a greater duty to the LGBT community, that if gardai marched in uniform at the Pride march then would they be marching in uniform at other marches – all spectacularly miss the point. This is bigger than that. It’s incredibly ironic that the week G-Force hosts this conference, their own commissioner is refusing to allow them to march proudly in uniform. In fact, it’s more than ironic, it’s embarrassing.

If the Garda Síochána really wants to live up to the praise that has been given to it over the past few years in terms of being a more progressive, open and tolerant force, then they need to walk the walk, and march the march. And LGBT gardai should do so in uniform without fear of repercussions, official or unofficial.

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