Tom of Finland, Village People, George Michael and so many gay characters in American movies have done their best to immortalise the image of the gay cop – complete with oiled up baton and leather trousers. But none of these guys has ever been to one of the European Gay Police Association's conferences.
The association was founded in 2004 and has held six conferences in different European cities ever since. Last week the seventh took place in Berlin, with over 200 cops from thirteen countries in attendance. Over the course of three days there were several talks about topics like hate crime in Germany or the integration of homosexuals in the public service.
The ordinary policeman is known for overseeing a demonstration with an anonymous helmet drawn across his or her face, for carrying out the odd stop-and-search here and there and for always being an upstanding representative of the law. But a trip to this gay cop convention showed that behind the stern outside appearance of a police officer lies an actual human being. The stuff that is usually considered to be private was out in the open.
We spoke to some of the friendly faces we met while there.
Carly Andrews, England
VICE: What is being a gay policewoman in the UK like?
Carly Andrews: I have been in the force for about six years, but I think the big gay rights groups had done most of the work before I started working for the police. There was a time where it was frowned upon to talk about sexual orientation in the force, but they've been fighting really hard for gay rights for the last 30 to 40 years and achieved a lot.
Have you always been accepted by your colleagues?
When I started working with the Surrey Police Department, I was welcomed with open arms. They even encouraged me to go to conferences like this one, so that I have the chance to educate myself about gay rights and support other gays within the force.
Had you already "come out" before joining the force?
Before I started working with the police, I had a job in public administration and I can remember someone making a homophobic joke on my first day. From that day on, it was clear to me that no one ought to know that I had a girlfriend. I felt terrible that I didn´t speak up for myself. When I started with the police, I wanted to treat this matter differently. I wanted to deal with it better and without secrecy about my partner. I wanted to refer to her as my girlfriend.
How do you react if you witness a hate crime? Is this something that affects you more than your heterosexual colleagues?
Of course all the things you can relate to can and will affect you a certain way. For example if a lesbian woman is being verbally insulted on the street, I can relate to that. I also experience things like this, but I hardly ever report it, which I actually should. You just get used to negative comments.
Josef Hosp, Austria
VICE: What is being a gay police officer in Austria like?
Josef Hosp: I worked for Customs for 24 years before I started with the police. Since 1991, I have been out as a gay man. Ever since, I have experienced a lot of bullying. People tried to talk negatively about the way I live my life or even oppress me because of that. But I have always made sure to keep going and now I am holding an executive position. For my younger colleagues, the situation has definitely improved. It used to be much worse.
When did you start?
I started in 1981 with Customs and came out in 1984. I wanted to make a statement with my coming out.
What was that like?
Pretty bad. My outing actually took place at a seminar class. The day after, I was called into the organisers' office. They were very adamant about me not speaking about homosexual matters within the seminar. And said that, if I continued doing so, they couldn't guarantee that I would pass the classes. Next my roommate decided to move out of the room we shared, because he was too worried about him being thought of as gay. After the seminar I went back to my department where a bunch of my colleagues decided not to go out in the field with me anymore. I then got a "promotion", but it only entailed working from my desk. I am a person that has always loved to be outside and in contact with people, so I was pretty disappointed.
How do you react to hate crimes or homophobic attacks?
My perception is definitely different to that of heterosexuals. I have experienced stuff like that myself. I was held at gunpoint once.
When you were out privately?
Yeah, I was out as a gay man. I think this is the reason why I have a personal approach to things like that. Every form of abuse hurts, even if it's just verbal and you don't show it.
T. & B., Belgium
VICE: What's life like for a gay police officer in Belgium?
T: I've never had any kind of problems with it. All my colleagues were very supportive when I came out. They were very interested in what it is like to live your life as a gay man and wanted to know a lot of details – especially the women. But yeah, they were mostly very curious and supportive.
B: I also haven't had any problems. It's accepted but it shouldn't be shown too publicly.
Are you guys partners?
T: No we are not. We work in different units and have different bosses.
Damn. Were you guys openly gay before you joined the force?
B: I came out after I joined. Some of my colleagues had been talking about it already. Raising questions like: "Is he gay?", "Is he straight?" But when I had the courage to say it out loud it wasn't a problem at all.
T: I was already out when I was in police training. I have never been the person who seeks attention by saying: "Hey, here I am and I'm gay!" I just did my thing and after a couple of weeks, some of my colleagues came up to me and asked if I was gay. I thought, "They've manned up and had the balls to ask me, so I'll give them an honest answer."
B: To be honest, I was a little bit scared before I went into the process of being admitted to police school. I did wonder whether homosexuality and policing could go together. Looking back, my worries turned out to be unnecessary.
I wouldn't have thought that there are a lot of gay cops. Has this ever been something you thought about? Was this even maybe something to be afraid of?
T: I wasn't scared at all. Before I joined the force the former chief of police had recently come out. Now he is the Head of the Antwerp Police Department. There were a lot of newspaper articles about this and a ton of comments and reactions followed. Overall they were mostly positive though. For me being gay or being a police officer was never the question. Being gay is my thing and being a policeman is also my thing.
Ann Grießbach-Baerns, Germany
VICE: What is being a lesbian and a cop in Berlin like?
Ann Grießbach-Baerns: I haven't had any kind of problems coming out. It wasn't a problem for my colleagues either.
How did you come out in front of your colleagues?
I started police training when I was sixteen. That was the age where you are not exactly sure about it – well, you are actually, but you don't walk around telling everyone.
You can start police training at sixteen?
Yeah. So I basically grew into both, I guess. The older you get, the more openly and normally you talk about it.
And this works out well?
It does. I'm not in the minority. We have a lot of gay people in our department. If we're talking about a minority, the only thing I can say is that we have almost outnumbered heterosexuals. Almost half of the department is gay!
Where is your department?
I am an instructor at the State Police School.
How do you react to homophobic violence? Do you think you experience it differently to a heterosexual colleague?
I wouldn't say so. But I do think that because of my background I can spot and question some criminal acts better or in a different way. I can raise awareness among colleagues in the department and also within the State Police School. I can show whether the crime has a homophobic background or not.
How do you assess the homophobic violence in Berlin in general?
I do know the statistics, but you want me to answer the question from a private angle... Of course I think that people have to be educated about it a lot more than they are currently. The victims should be encouraged to file a report if they experience any form of homophobic abuse. So I definitely think that homophobic violence in Berlin is still a hot topic.
Other conventions we've visited:
Update 15/8/16: A Q&A was removed from this feature upon the request of the interviewee.