Personal Column: A fair cop

PC Mark Carter entered the competition on a whim. Forty fellow officers turned up to cheer him on
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The Independent Online

I knew I was gay when I was about 15, but I blocked it out. I was popular and thought that if people found out they wouldn't want to know me any more. At school they thought I was a bit of a ladies' man because I looked after my appearance and I liked chatting to girls and having a laugh with them.

I had a girlfriend at university. We had sex once and I knew it wasn't right, so I finished the relationship. I was studying sports science and coaching football, and at night I would go out with straight, butch soccer mates, pulling girls in clubs. They would egg me on and I'd play up to it. I'd have a skinful and then at midnight sneak off to a gay club.

On New Year's Eve, 2004, I met my first boyfriend, and a few days later decided to tell my mum. Because I was acting so secretively and lying all the time my mum and dad were worried about me. I would even pull my coat over my head to run in and out of gay clubs. I cried myself to sleep. It was awful. I don't like lying and I was lying to cover up lies.

When I told my mum I was gay she was shocked and started crying, but she said everything was going to be all right. I was trembling and my teeth were going. It was a mix of dread and relief. I cried too, but I knew I'd done the right thing. She said she would tell my dad because I didn't want do. He dealt with it in his own way and we've never got on as well as we do now. He's accepted it just as my mum has.

I started at police training school several days later. I wanted to join the police because I thought it would be exciting and no day would be the same. How they would react to my sexuality was at the back of my mind and I didn't join with the intention of telling anyone. But I played a joke on a lad, who unknown to me was gay, and he reported me for homophobia. I got investigated so I had to tell my bosses. I was petrified that they were going tell the station I was going to be attached to. I wanted them to know who I was before they found out. They said it wouldn't go any further.

When I joined the station at Huddersfield, after three months' training, I was a bit nervous. It was quite difficult when I was in the van and they'd be saying, "What do you think of her with the blonde hair?" I'd say she was pretty, while they were being a bit more derogatory. I wasn't going to be derogatory towards a woman just to impress them. Then on a night out two months after I'd been there someone asked me whether I was gay and I said I was. I didn't want to lie.

I think their knowing has helped. You see your colleagues more than your family and you back each other in dangerous situations. There needs to be trust. People understand me a lot better now. I've had no derogatory comments from them. If there has been any banter, I've been quite happy with it.

In May, a friend and I went out on a club night and it happened to be the Birmingham heat of Mr Gay UK. I got a bit drunk and ended up on stage. We had to introduce ourselves, and then go on stage again in swimwear, which they provided. I was really relaxed because I hadn't prepared for it or set my heart on it. I was ecstatic when I won. Everyone was cheering and wanted to take my picture.

It was only the next day that I started to get concerned. The police is a very disciplined organisation, and I didn't want to bring it into disrepute. So I rang my boss and he said not to worry, and we'd sort it out. He went to his bosses and I spoke to the Gay Police Association, who said there was no reason why I couldn't enter it. I told a couple of colleagues and they just laughed and said it was brilliant. Eventually, through liaising with the diversity unit at West Yorkshire Police, the chief constable allowed me to continue with the finals. I really wanted to win it then. I got a personal trainer, started to build some muscle and kept an eye on what I ate.

I got recognised on duty because it was in the local press that I'd won in Birmingham. I was called "queer" and "faggot". I'd never experienced homophobic abuse before. As a police officer I'd get stick anyway. I've had the best training in the world to deal with stuff like that, a few homophobic comments aren't going to bother me. Straight after I got the abuse I went to another job and someone came up to me and said, "Oh my God it's Mr Gay Birmingham!", shook my hand and said, "Well done."

My colleagues were over the moon that I was in the finals. I had more than 50 supporters there, about 40 of whom were from the police. They had T-shirts with my name on and even invited their friends and family. I'd gone from being petrified about coming out as gay to never having as many people in the same room supporting me in my life. It was absolutely amazing.

In the Dress to Impress round I wore a mock police uniform. I wanted to wear my real one, but the head of personnel said I couldn't. We then had to be interviewed in swimwear. I was over the moon when I won, and my colleagues were chuffed to bits. They'd had one of the best nights ever and joined me in celebrating afterwards. My prize included cash, a photo shoot, launching my own calendar and two holidays. For the next year I will serve as a role model for young gay men and attend public functions.

I haven't been on patrol since winning just over a week ago. I'm behind the scenes at the station while things die down. The last few days have been a bit mad and my boss is obviously looking after me. I'm hoping that after a couple of weeks I'll be back on patrol and doing the job I love.