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Encounters With Victoria's Police -- Against Homophobia

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Written by  | Published in: Personal stories

By Luke Bryant.

An Australian Independent Member
Prime Timers Worldwide. (PTWW)

In years before the 1981 Equal Opportunity and Anti-Sexual Discrimination Act, verbal and physical aggression against gay and lesbian citizens was frequent and sadly, Victoria Police Command seemed unhurried to change procedure prior to Chief Commissioner Kel Glare. Under his watch a part time Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer (GLLO) was appointed in 1990. In 2000, Neil Comrie appointed of a full time Officer, this was followed by Christine Nixon's expansion of GLLO from 2001. In 2014 there are now at least 12 GLLO Officers throughout Victorian Police Complex's and Stations State-wide.

 


pdf  Click to download a PDF version of this article.

Prior to the current Chief Commissioner Ken Lay, leading uniformed officers in the 2014 Gay Pride March, he had previously described some police members as having 1970s attitudes to homosexuality. To the Age Newspaper he said, "Their attitude was "unfortunate" we have quite a number of gay members and it's not always easy being gay in the police force I would think. Every now and again I hear stories that I am really disappointed with because there are some of our members that simply haven't moved on, that have got an attitude that is more akin to '70s thinking than these years."

pic2Regardless of slowly changing police culture in earlier years, physical and verbal attacks reached another serious level in 1997, with a public outburst against the sexual orientation of several sworn police officers in Victoria. This offensive "imprimatur" was broadcast over TV by a Senior Government Minister whose Government, 5 years previously, had produced the above Anti-Sexual Discrimination Act.

I responded to his pious voicing by contacting the Secretary of the Gay and Lesbian Police Employees Network (GALPEN (Vic) Inc.) and joined their ranks as an Associate and Official Photographer. I supported trusted police officers confronting persisting outmoded attitudes that continued years after the Act.

GALPEN Members had been a major part of the Gay Pride Marches on several occasions. (Above right photo, 2001) Other anti-homophobic public actions included a lecture to a group of gay mature (?) men that in the latter part of the 20th Century seemed as fixed behind the closet door as they continue to be in the 21st Century. Senior Vic. Police officers, including Inspector Jill Wood was one of the speakers. In the photo above, Jill leads the 2002 Pride March, to demonstrate uniformed police supporting the Anti-Discrimination Laws.

pic3Several years later, at least two other gay Police officers from GLLO have addressed the same people and three Victoria Police Chief Commissioners have been interviewed on local gay radio and TV relative to gay issues.

It should be clear to all GLBTI citizens that under Law, it's ok to be gay, there is no shame.

Executives from Australia's major sporting codes, including Cricket Australia made a commitment on April 9 this year to rid their sports of homophobia.
Their chief executive, Bill Pulver said,

"Put simply, we believe that every individual - whether they're players, supporters, coaches or administrators - should all feel safe, welcome and included, regardless of race, gender and sexuality."

In the 21st Century the entire GLBTI community's should support this exceptional opportunity to be at the forefront against homophobia by joining the ever expanding public acceptance of us all.

In 1997 GALPEN's Executive appointed me as Communications Officer and in 2002, their Executive Officers elected me to Life Membership.

Sadly, more than a decade into the 21st Century, accepted legal recognition of G/L issues remains aloof to so many, particularly G/L persons, (Closeted) that continue to react with suspicion toward police that today embrace the Victoria Police GLLO Unit that is supported by various civilians, gay and straight within Victoria's more open-minded community.

pic4In 2009 Acting Senior Sergeant Scott Davis, (Photo of Scott and Luke attached) from the Centre for Ethics, Community Engagement and Communication in 2009, initiated a new segment into the Victoria Police recruit training program entitled, "Community Encounters" at the Police Academy.

In the same period, Police Chief Simon Overland made a very clear public statement relative to homophobia. (At right)

Citizens from Victoria's diverse community were invited to support the program by volunteering their personal experiences. I joined the Academy team in 2011.

These "Encounters" with civilians from several cultural backgrounds, who discuss their life's experiences, some appallingly bad, not necessarily by police, but society in general, gives recruits serious experience as future sworn officers, relative to their duties - prior to official service.

At each session Scott informs the recruits they should not shy away from difficult questions in order to get a better understanding of the person, but they cannot ask what community, if any, we are from. He continues, ''Do it professionally, do it with respect, do it with dignity, but ask the question, it's better to make a mistake at the Academy, not in the street as a sworn officer.''

pic5The photo at left is of Scott and me in discussion prior to a Community Encounter session.

More than 3,000 Police and Protective Services Officers (PSOs) have undertaken the program since it was first introduced six years ago.

With increasing operational demands on police resources, the establishment of the Protective Services Division has allowed police to get on with "policing". Protective Services Officers provide specialist security services in areas where Victoria Police have previously undertaken duties.

The PSO are deployed in many areas such as Melbourne's public transport system, Law and Suburban Courts, Parliament House, the Shrine of Remembrance, Police HQ and elsewhere. (Right photo)

Each recruit trainee undergoes a 33 week course at the Academy. Following qualification in all aspects of training and graduation, they transfer to the States metropolitan or country area to complete their probationary training.

Within the first days of commencement, they have their opportunity for detailed investigation of civilians. This occurs every second Thursday across each year with a newly recruited group of Police and PSO. Groups of 6 trainees meet people including Muslims, a Rabbi, Aboriginal community members, GLBTI persons, a prison senior officer, those with mental illness or HIV/AIDS and African migrants. Recruits politely question us to discover who is who and what is our life's experience, before the volunteers move to the next group 15 minutes later.

In 2011–12, our Team contributed to training 35 Squads containing on average 26 recruits each, 11 Squads containing on average 20 Public Service Officer (PSO) recruits each and 30 Community Encounters Sessions.

pic6In 2014, there are three squads at each fortnightly session, while earlier recruits continue study or graduate from the Academy.

As a volunteer, I support their training to be more responsive to the diverse community as sworn Officers, by openly and honestly answering their questions relative to my past and current interests in the general community. Yes, it may be true, other gay persons many find my course of action discomforting as I follow formal introductions by announcing,

"I'm in my 85th year and I'm gay. I have several different interests that in years past have included motorcycling, astronomy, professional photography and RAAF (Reserve) and now in retirement, writing classical music reviews and articles related to my other interests. However today, because of my limited time with each group, detailed investigation of my background can be further expanded in your time by other means."

Approximately 5 minutes into each session, I supply each recruit with a copy of my Curriculum Vitae, (CV) providing recruits with opportunities for interrogation that I'm pleased to answer on site or later.

pic7Having quickly examined the CV and discovered my membership of the gay USA/Canadian Border Riders Motorcycle Club, approximately 20% of the recruits identify as riders, I guess some may eventually be part of the Forces Solo Motorcycle Unit of 20 or so riders. (Photo below)

This provides me the opportunity to present them with a complimentary copy of the recently published "Motorcycle Inspection Checklist" as a gift from my Club. This servicing list is genuinely appreciated and can only advance relationships between police and law abiding citizens.

I continue, "Did you know that 10% or more of the world's population is not heterosexual? The Kinsey Reports in 1949/53 clearly established, sexual behaviour in the human Male and Female is the way they were born. It is not choice.

There are 70 or more people in this room and least 1500 persons on this Campus; their vocation is not affected by being heterosexual, gay or lesbian.
Over many weeks, a similar response from the majority of recruits reoccurs, "Who cares anyway?" as I continue, "Personally, I am not ashamed of my sexuality which perhaps is different to many friends, so why should I be embarrassed by sharing intimacy with a similar person, as indeed heterosexual's do?"
The affirmative response from so many recruits is surely a good news reaction.

"However, even today, there are several gay citizens that seem troubled by my wearing of attire displaying the Victoria Police symbol. Their attitude is probably a reaction from their earlier year's experiences.

Questioning continues,

"Luke, what was police behaviour like in your day, I mean before the Anti-Sex Discrimination Act 1984?

I remind recruits, "Difficult, so I avoided confrontation. However, it was and is the duty of police to uphold the law, although a few exceeded their responsibility. Never forget, it was and continues to be the law making politicians that permit their religious beliefs to formulate laws without scientific or moral justification. In a culturally diverse democratic country, that was wrong as it is today."

Interestingly enough, recruits agree.

My up-front answer produces the usual question, "Do you believe there is a God?"

"I should explain before answering, my studies of astronomy in the 1950's (Photo below) revealed evidence beyond the solar system of a cosmos extending for billions of light years, so far we have not yet found any evidence of Gods, but citizens should be free to believe what they choose. As future Police Officers, at times working in a Law Court, you will be sworn, under your God, or by Affirmation, to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Your faith, not being evidence, has no place in law."

pic8"Luke, are you an atheist"?

"No! I reply. That would indicate that I know the answer. I do not know, so to answer your earlier question;

"Do you believe there is a God?"

The answer is, "There is no credible answer to the question."

I continue, "There are two major world religions, both believe in only one God. So by definition both faiths have the same God, yet they slaughter each other as a result of their ethnicity or tribal beliefs, so could their forgiving God absolve any of them"?

Most recruits understand my reasoning before continuing:

"Did you ever tell your parents and straight friends that you were gay?"

"Yes! My parents when I was 25, they had no problem with the disclosure.

"But how did your straight close friends react."

"Years earlier, I was the Best Man at the wedding of a friend in my RAAF Squadron. Today, one of his children is a helicopter pilot with the New South Police. To his family, being gay is of no significance as for other people, if there is a problem; it is their difficulty, not mine."

Question: "Did you ever think of joining the police force?"

Reply: "With a long history of service in both parents familiars that goes back several generations, I guess I have the service gene in my makeup, so yes, I did consider joining, but there were two problems, being gay was one I could have hidden, the other, I could not, I was not tall enough! However, my genes found other ways into service, via the RAAF Citizen Air Force at 21 (F) Squadron, Laverton. Victoria. I served for 7 years.

There is another occasional question of particular interest to all GLBTI persons. "Are gay adults in general sexually attracted to children".

The short answer is, "No! However, the increasing acceptance of gay and lesbian citizens in Victoria's diverse community requires increased vigilance by G/L people against any possible criminality. With gay rights/marriage and more still on our agenda, gay organizations need to be seen by observant heterosexuals, to be above reproach by improved formalization of their Membership Application Rules, but many homosexuals disagree with my concerns."

It's noted, many Law Enforcement Officers, currently involved with the Royal Commission investigation into child molestation understand my disquiet.

The recruits had been previously instructed to prepare a written biography of each of the community volunteers over the following three days and the volunteers receive extracts from these reports, I present two out of several dozen from recent "Encounters".

1. Male Recruit wrote, "Upon my reflection, I felt challenged. Challenged in the way of "How can I make a difference?" I challenge myself to be more open-minded. I challenge myself to become a better Police Officer by accepting everyone. Today is something I will remember for the rest of my life."

2. Female Recruit wrote, "This experience taught me to take a step back, forget any stereotypes or perceptions I may have had and to consider the person in front of me as just that, a person. Someone, who deserves to be respected and treated fairly and honestly"

pic9Although questions to me from recruits partly relate to gay issues, they are far more interested in my other professional and community areas of interest, so the above report is only a small example of these fortnightly meetings - and yes , it is a clear indication of changing police approaches to Victoria's various communities.

It is worth noting, the above recruit training program, conducted by Victoria Police, was the only public authority offered, and accepted by the Victorian Human Rights Education Program, as a model of good practice and included in the United Nations Human Rights Education DVD, celebrating human rights education.

At the conclusion of the Community Encounters Session, and having read several dozen recruit feedback reports, received over several months, it is self evident; recruits regarded their experience, highly valuable for their future work in a diverse society and we all - the volunteers - agree.

Crime Stoppers Victoria recognised the role its stakeholders play in creating safer Victorian communities at a special function at Melbourne Town Hall in June 2013.

3 police were awarded the S I (Mick) Miller 2013 Crime Stoppers Award. The S I (Mick) Miller Award is presented to police who have gone over and above the norm to promote Crime Stoppers. Sgt Electra Wellens, Senior Constable Gabby Tyacke and Scott Davies were presented the award for the work they have done over a number of years encouraging the gay and lesbian community to report crime.

pic10Photo: Sergeant Electra Wellens, Jo Baird Crime Stoppers Media/Marketing Unit manager, Sgt Scott Davies, Chief Commissioner Ken Lay, Paul Anthony a radio presenter at Joy 94.9 and the Victorian Minister for Police Kym Wells.

Today, I can only try to encourage GLBTI citizens to experience their greater personal power, by leaving the closet door closed behind them to discover how much stronger they are by being out while continuing to be a lawful citizen.

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Last modified on Saturday, 12 April 2014 09:25
Luke Bryant

Retired, following 20 years at Monash University, Dept. of Physics as Head of Photographic Laboratory from 1962 to the end of 1982 – to become openly involved with Gay/Lesbian issues in Law Enforcement, particularly those of Gay/Lesbian Victoria Police Officers.

I'm also a member of the Victoria Police Blue Ribbon Foundation,  formed  to perpetuate the memory of members of the Victoria Police killed in the line of duty. This is achieved through fund raising with money going to specialized medical facilities in Victorian public hospitals. 

To date, the Blue Ribbon Foundation has allocated more than $3 million to community projects that give specialized treatment and medical care to over 65,000 patients each year.

* See: Articles in Prime Timers, "ACCEPTANCE - NOT TOLERANCE AND HATE-CRIMES"  Pages 10 & 11, February 2012 and "TIMES PAST" Pages 10 & 11,  August 2012. 

Much of my history and photos can be found throughout my website on Yahoo “flickr”.  See below.

Website: www.flickr.com/photos/rlukebryant/

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