They almost called themselves the Friday the 13th Society. Perhaps fortunately for future funding prospects, they ended up with a less sinister name.
Serving With Pride was born on October 13, 2006 in Toronto, as the first queer police organization in Ontario. Twenty-nine queer police personnel, some with the support of their organizations and some on their own time, signed a declaration acknowledging the strengths and pitfalls of coming out and agreeing that every effort must be made to keep workplaces safe and welcoming.
In that document, says advisory board member David Pepper of the Ottawa Police Service, lies the reason for the group’s existence.
“Someone had to sign with an X,” he says.
“If less than two years ago gay and lesbian adults were scared to attend a meeting,” he says, “there is a crying need for a group like this. People need this support because it’s a tough job.”
The group’s president, Sandra Jones, is a sergeant with the Toronto Police. She says the group was born out of “necessity to encourage, support and mentor” gay and trans police officers throughout Ontario. Jones says up till now the organization’s main focus has been on getting itself up and running. “
Being a newly formed organization, Serving With Pride has limited financial ability to promote itself,” Jones says. “We would like to develop an effective lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans support and networking system throughout Ontario.”
“We’re trying to seek out grants for long-term funding and to make people aware we exist,” says membership director Todd Hillhouse, also of the Toronto Police. “One way to do this is attending Pride events.”
The organization hopes to provide networking for queer police and emergency personnel and mentoring for new police officers. “We can bounce ideas off other folks and get new ideas to present to our service about what, for example, Toronto or London is doing,” says treasurer Brenda Landry, a civilian employee with the Ottawa Police.
Landry says some members have taken on mentoring roles for other officers.
“If I’m a constable and I want to go for my sergeant’s exam, I can find out from another officer, ‘well, when I did it, this is what happened.'” Queer police officers who need support can sign up for the organization on its website, servingwithpride.org.
Pepper says one of the group’s founders, Ontario Police College instructor David Snoddy, worked “heroically” to gain the support of the College and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. Hillhouse recently gave a presentation to recruits at the College, which he would like to think is just the beginning. “We still need to raise awareness of the challenges that officers still face,” he said.
“In the very long term, our goal would be to educate all members of law enforcement.”
Gay in the RCMP
WORKPLACE / Police couple suits up
It always makes a nice story when a man who dreams of joining the RCMP follows his father or brother into the force. But it’s less often one hears of an officer following his husband. However, that’s just what David Connors did.
Connors, a constable in the RCMP technological crime branch, decided to join the force in 2002 after watching his husband (then boyfriend) Jason at work.
“Seeing him as a police officer made me think of it as an option,” Connors says. “I also know three gay men who applied after seeing us; they found out it wasn’t a boys’ club.”
Connors never felt a need to hide his sexual orientation during the recruitment process.
“They knew about it when I was going through recruiting,” he says.
Hesitation came when he was coming out to his troopmates at the RCMP’s training centre, or depot, in Regina, Sask.
“I waited about four weeks,” he said. “I told about a third of them and they told others. This might seem surprising, but it didn’t become an issue.”
He concedes that not everyone may feel as comfortable coming out has he has.
“The only big challenge would be hesitation in telling your troop members,” he said. “I know a few officers who are not out to coworkers.”
Connors says he and his 31 depot troopmates became “almost like brothers” from living so close together.
After six months of intensive physical training which he describes as “very tiring and busy,” Connors became a member of the force and was posted to Nova Scotia – a province that tried to ban gay police officers as recently as 1986.
He spent his first months as an officer making traffic stops in the town of Yarmouth. “In Yarmouth, gay culture is a little less obvious; it’s a little more hidden because it’s not a major metropolitan area,” says the New Brunswick native. “I’d go to Halifax on my days off.”
Connors is now based in Ottawa at the technological crime branch, where he analyzes electronics that contain possible evidence to crimes and “assists in the preparation and execution” of search warrants involving electronic devices. He also takes time from his schedule to work with present and future queer RCMP officers.
Connors has advice and encouragement for potential recruits willing to go through the year-and-a-half of applications, exams, interviews and physical training. “We’re having a recruiting drive to get some good people in the RCMP,” he says.
“It’s very rewarding work. Be yourself if you get a job in policing; don’t be afraid to do it.”