Gay police officer fights for feeling pride in the force
Edgar Rodriguez fought the NYPD to be able to march in uniform at New York City's Pride parade
Edgar Rodriguez remembers when, as a rookie police officer, he saw an older colleague fly into a rage at the station after encountering gay men cruising in a park.
"It was really frightening [...] He literally slammed his locker door closed and screamed out, 'If I ever find out that one of our own cops is a friggin' faggot, I'm going to blow his head off by accident,'" he told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay.
Rodriguez knew he was gay from a young age. But he also grew up seeing police officers as heroes. After joining the New York Police Department in 1983, he soon decided it wouldn't be safe or good for his career to come out at work.
Accusations of prejudice among police have persisted over the years. Officers are not currently allowed to march in uniform at Pride parades in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto as a result of ongoing tensions. The bans have been hotly debated and remain controversial.
- Pride Toronto members vote not to allow police to march in annual parade
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Marching in the Pride parade 'changed my life tremendously'
A few years after witnessing homophobia on the job, a colleague invited Rodriguez to march in New York City's Pride parade with the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL), a then-fledgling activist group within the NYPD working to curb homophobia in the force.
Rodriguez hung back at the parade sideline at first, unsure if he'd join his GOAL colleagues behind their makeshift banner.
At the last second, he did.
"I had the banner above my nose, trying to hide my face, and I had a hat and sunglasses on."
Soon, Rodriguez became swept up in the power of the moment, which he calls one of the most incredible experiences of his life.
"The crowd just began to roar and cheer with such an energy that it shot through me. It was so incredible, the love and the acceptance and the feeling I got from that crowd," he said. "I soon threw my hat off and my sunglasses off, and I was literally jumping up and down, jumping out of my skin."
It was a huge moment for Rodriguez personally, but he realized it was also an important act in fighting homophobia.
He recalls the shocked expressions of fellow officers who were securing the parade when they saw him march by.
"Those are cops that really respected me and admired me for the kind of cop I was. I was always there for them," he said. "I was just as courageous and strong as they were, trying to address the needs in the community and fight crime."
Marching in uniform an LGBT milestone
As Rodriguez rose in the ranks, he came to see how important his personal pride was to the people he served. But at the time, the NYPD would not allow its officers to march in the Pride parade in uniform.
Rodriguez and others from GOAL eventually took the NYPD to court, successfully suing for the ability to march in the parade in uniform, celebrate Pride at police headquarters, and educate incoming officers about the LGBT community
Seeing LGBT officers marching in uniform for the first time gave everyone the sense that, 'Wow this is a legitimate human condition to be gay. Even cops are gay.'- Edgar Rodriguez
"Nothing we got from the NYPD just to help support LGBT cops or LGBT community came as a gift. Everything we got came with a struggle and fighting for."
In 1996, Rodriguez marched in the Pride parade in uniform for the first time.
"Seeing LGBT officers marching in uniform for the first time gave everyone the sense that, 'Wow this is a legitimate human condition to be gay. Even cops are gay.'"
Today's complicated politics of marching in uniform
Rodriguez is now retired. While he's proud of his work, he acknowledges that racism, sexism and homophobia are still present in police culture today.
"Because of its history of how it impacted on marginalized communities, because of its history of police brutality, of bias, there have been people of colour and LGBT people who have tried to go to the police and fail to get the service that they deserve."
He says he understands why activists have protested the symbol of uniformed officers marching in Pride parades.
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But along with the bad, Rodriguez says he's seen the good in his fellow officers.
"I've seen cops at a time when HIV was raging and still a frightening thing, that would immediately put their hands – their bare hands – and stop a gay person from bleeding to death."
His says his message to activists is that LGBT officers are part of the solution and share the goal of more just and equitable police forces.
With that in mind, GOAL invited Toronto officers unable to march in uniform in their own city to march with GOAL in New York City's parade in 2017.
"Over time I hope that the uniform itself doesn't represent the negative things but also represents the positive things that policing has done for society and for people as a whole."
This episode appears in the Out in the Open episode, "Point of Pride".