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An LGBT Group Is Changing the NYPD From Within

Shades of Blue

Since 1982, the Gay Officers Action League has been helping the nation's largest police force evolve.

Thousands of queer officers around the world are striving to protect and serve, but find little help when it comes to addressing their own concerns. That's why, in 1982, Charles Henry "Charlie" Cochrane Jr., a sergeant of the New York Police Department and the first out gay person on the force, founded the Gay Officers Action League to provide training and assist law enforcement on matters of discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

Thirty-six years later, the organization has chapters across the United States and is instrumental in combating homophobia in police departments and other law enforcement agencies. Recently, GOAL spearheaded a trans policy advocating for an easier process when an officer transitions -- retrieving new ID cards, switching uniforms, and getting new bullet-proof vests, among other things. Brian E. Downey, president of GOAL, says that getting the NYPD's buy-in hadn't been as difficult as expected.

"The powerful people got it right away," Downey says. In particular, New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill quickly signed on. Downey recalls, "I went to see him, and I said, 'You know, I'm giving you a gift. This is a gift for this agency. And this is the time to do it.' And he met with his key people, and I got a call last year on the day of the Pride celebration that the policy [was] going into effect."

Downey points out that interacting with LGBT cops helps straight officers interact with LGBT civilians too. It's a win-win.

"We educate one another," he explains. "We educate one another on religion, on social status, on class, on where people come from, of where people have been, various unique life experiences."

The independent organization isn't funded by police departments but relies on donations to provide services, like the New York chapter's new training program.

"We actually train recruits," Downey says. "The NYPD has asked us to train ... everybody. So if you're thinking to do traffic, even, or a school safety agent, or anybody that has public contact in uniform, we're training them."

A future objective for GOAL is to implement a "sensitivity and awareness immersion course" for police officers of nations interested in admission into the United Nations and the European Union. The intention would be to eventually implement an LGBT awareness model worldwide.

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