`oi, poof, where's your handbag?'

Last week two WPcs were awarded pounds 110,000 after being ordered to wear suspenders on duty. Here, a gay policeman says it's not just women who are sexually harassed
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I had always wanted to be a policeman, ever since I can remember. Looking after people, protecting them, has always been important to me.

When I was at university in the north I worked at a local police station as a Special Constable volunteer. My sexuality was never questioned, until someone spotted me in a gay nightclub. From then on, my working life was hell. Every morning there would be jibes of "Oi, poof, where's your handbag?" There was a hard core of men who thought being a policeman was all about being macho and tough. I challenged their idea of what a copper should be and they hated me. People refused to work with me, hardly anyone would talk to me. When any calls came in of gay-bashing or gay domestic violence, they'd pass it on to me and laugh. But I didn't give up. When I got into Hendon Police College, my boss told me I wouldn't last two weeks, even though I'd done good work. At Hendon I wanted nothing more than to come out as soon as I could, but instead I got myself a girlfriend and nearly got married, I was so desperate to fit in and protect myself. If you weren't strong in gym classes, the instructor would call you a poof or a fag and everyone would laugh, including me.

When I left college I went to a London police station. I thought big city attitudes would be different, and to an extent they were. I don't think of myself as effeminate, but people would tease me and gossip about my sexuality. No one ever came up to me and asked me if I was gay, but they sensed an "otherness" about me that didn't fit into the tough-guy ideal of what a policeman should be. If, as a new recruit, you do well, it's because you're a good copper. If you make a mistake, it's because you're black, female or gay. You have to work twice as hard to prove yourself.

Then someone stuck an explicit gay porn advert in my locker and scrawled homophobic graffiti. I was devastated. I could see it happening all over again, the tough guys making my life hell. I didn't report it. I didn't want any more aggro, but the Superintendent found out and went mad. He caught the culprits, but I didn't want to know.

My flatmate was a WPc and was having a rough time, too. We supported each other. I can believe that case about those WPc's in Harrogate [who were told to dress up in short skirts and stockings and subsequently officially complained], although it does seem an extreme case.

After the locker incident I knew I had a choice. I could either resign or prove myself to be as tough as the tough guys. I started being the first one to sort out a street fight, the first one in there to read people their rights on arrest. I became overly aggressive. It was the only way I could survive, and it worked. I gained a lot of respect. As things got better, I started coming out to people I could trust and gradually the whole station knew. I'd proved myself a "good officer" and my sexuality was no longer a big issue. It's ironic that now the new male recruits at the station confide in me. They play up to the machismo in public, but secretly find it archaic. There's a whole new generation of men who don't feel they have to go around grunting and yelling to prove themselves.

Coming out was the best thing I ever did. I still get teased in a good- natured way, but people generally leave me alone. Except of course for those homophobic men who, at quiet moments, make it clear they wouldn't mind a different sexual experience. I could have slept with many straight married men by now if I'd wanted to. Over the last four or five years, things have got a lot better for minorities in the police force, but there's still a lot of work to be done. My boyfriend and I live in police married quarters and I even took my boyfriend to the Christmas party last year. But it's not just changing mentalities - I had to fight bloody hard to get it.

Interview by Cayte Williams