The Pride of Antwerp
BY Loann Halden
July 01 2009 12:00 AM ET
Police departments are notoriously macho, and certainly, in many U.S. cities, officers aren't leaping from the closet. How did you decide to come out? After I got my master's in criminology, I became a police officer in 1989. The Antwerp Police Department was not any different than most police forces all over the world -- very macho and not really gay-friendly. On patrol all of my colleagues were always talking about women, and I was not interested in that at all. They considered me a workaholic who was only interested in the job. The workaholic thing was true, but I could not tell anybody about my sexual orientation and how I spent my free time. I led, as a lot of gays do, a double life.
In 2000, I became commissioner -- at the age of 33, the youngest ever in Antwerp -- and I was responsible for five districts with about 250 police officers. Everybody considered me a workaholic because we were very successful in getting part of organized crime out of Antwerp. My sexual orientation was never an issue. Even most of the reporters at the local newspapers knew that I was gay, but nobody ever wanted to ask any questions about it. In 2003 a local gay magazine asked me if I would give an interview, and ... I simply said yes. Since the Belgian government passed very progressive laws, I thought it was the right time to come out. Once the regular media found out I outed myself, it was a big issue in Belgium. It was on national TV and I went on a few talk shows. But by the end of 2004 I decided I had to focus on my career and not on becoming a media star, so I stopped giving interviews.
Has being openly gay impacted your career at all? No, it hasn't. In 2004, I became director of operations, and my last promotion was in 2008 when I became first deputy chief commissioner and second in command of our police department. Due to my outing, a lot of other police officers came out, and being gay is not an issue anymore. The Antwerp Police Department is very open-minded toward gays and lesbians.
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