Listen: Lesbian police officer Sharon Lubinski comes out

MPR’s Chris Roberts profiles Minneapolis police officer Sharon Lubinski, who has come out as a lesbian to the department. Lubinski shares both the her reasons and fears on making her sexuality public.


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[POLICE RADIO CHATTER] CHRIS ROBERTS: Rounding a turn in her squad car near Loring Park in Minneapolis, police sergeant Sharon Lubinski expresses a wish for the future.

SHARON LUBINSKI: I'm hoping that in 5 to 10 years that a cop in uniform coming out is really just a footnote.

CHRIS ROBERTS: Whether a cop coming out of the closet will raise an eyebrow 5 or 10 years down the road is open to debate, but on the day before, 40-year-old Sharon Lubinski has arranged a meeting with police chief John Laux to make the most important announcement of her life, she is surprisingly calm and at peace. Not that there haven't been nights when Lubinski has awakened at 3:00 AM in a cold sweat, or she hasn't argued with her partner and friends about whether this is the right thing to do.

Lubinski calls herself a small town Wisconsin girl with a Green Bay Packer background. She became fully conscious she was a lesbian in the much more open environment of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She's been a police officer for 14 years, the last three working in community policing in the fourth precinct, which contains North Minneapolis and Downtown.

Lubinski says her involvement working with minorities, poor people, and neighborhood groups, became the impetus for her revealing her sexual identity.

SHARON LUBINSKI: For some time, it has bothered me that as an officer, I ask the community to trust me as a cop yet I am not-- I am not out to them and I'm not fully identified to them. And so where's the integrity?

CHRIS ROBERTS: Lubinski says a protective brotherhood of police officers exists because of the danger on the job, and coming out is a gamble because it may cause that network to disintegrate.

SHARON LUBINSKI: If another officer does not-- chooses not to back you up if you go to a gun call, if you go to a fight because they don't like you, because you're different, your life is in danger at that point. And so I think definitely the safety factor is a big issue for officers who choose to come out.

CHRIS ROBERTS: Still, Lubinski decided while there would be no guarantee of safety if she did come out, there would be no guarantee if she didn't. And as a worker for the city of Minneapolis, she does have legal recourse under the city's civil rights ordinance if she is discriminated against because sexual orientation is protected. Lubinski says many gay or lesbian police officers are often suspected of being gay by other officers, but it's not talked about. She says the result is an oppression of fear.

SHARON LUBINSKI: The fear factor keeps you from having pictures of your partner on your desk. The fear factor keeps you from having your partner go with you to the Christmas party. It's on the surface, those are little things, but those are the things that psychologically wear you down. And I don't need it. I've decided I don't need that anymore.

CHRIS ROBERTS: Lubinski hopes that her coming out will be an education for the Minneapolis Police Department. When she met with Chief Laux last Wednesday, she was accompanied by nine other officers, one from another jurisdiction. Two of the male officers and two females also divulged their homosexuality to Laux and the department, but decided not to go public.

In an interview last Friday, Laux said he wasn't shocked by the disclosure at the meeting, but he was aware of the risk Lubinski was taking, and it reaffirmed his opinion of her as a strong, courageous police officer. He says he's happy the climate within the department was supportive enough for Lubinski to feel safe to come forward.

JOHN LAUX: One of the things I've heard that day and yesterday was, so what? So she's lesbian. Our dealings with Sharon Lubinski are in a police professional setting, and that's not going to change that. And to me that's, again, telling that people at the workplace are looking at Sharon Lubinski for who she is as a police professional. And by the way, she happens to be lesbian. So what?

CHRIS ROBERTS: But Laux says a negative reaction from some officers is always possible, and something he has to monitor.

JOHN LAUX: To say I'm not concerned about a backlash would not be true. But I think the climate is right to deal with some of the people that will be uninformed, insensitive, and they will be dealt with.

CHRIS ROBERTS: No one knows how many gay or lesbian officers work in Minneapolis. No other officers were willing to be interviewed for this story. The Minneapolis Police Department has been the focus of complaints about racial intolerance. An FBI investigation continues into a series of hate letters sent to several Black officers last year, apparently from within the department.

But Al Berryman, with the Minneapolis Police Union, says getting along is becoming an even higher priority among cops given the danger on the streets.

AL BERRYMAN: You get in tense situations that police get into, shooting situations. There is nobody in their right mind that cares whether it's a male, female, lesbian, straight, Black, Indian, Hispanic, white. Nobody cares. All you want is that person next to you is capable of doing his or her job. And after that, nothing else matters.

CHRIS ROBERTS: After last Wednesday's meeting, Chief Laux agreed to form a task force that will investigate the work environment for gay and lesbian officers within the department, as well as how the gay community can be better served by police. Sharon Lubinski says she views her role as someone who can advocate for change from within the police ranks.

Jerry Fladmark is communications coordinator for citizens for a Loring Park community. Police conducted a sting operation against cruisers in Loring Park last April, but didn't consult any neighborhood groups which opposed the effort. Fladmark says Sharon Lubinski's coming out will make a huge difference for gays and lesbians who've had trouble interacting with police.

JERRY FLADMARK: Anytime you have somebody who is sensitive to the needs and concerns in the community, somebody you feel a sense of trust or a sense of identity with, it's easier to talk to them. I think it's more likely that they're going to understand your concerns and take them seriously.

CHRIS ROBERTS: Last Friday at the Arena Club, an upscale health club in the Target Center, Sharon Lubinski ran on a treadmill and reflected on a watershed week in her life. She said she felt a combination of exhaustion and euphoria. Everything had met or surpassed her expectations. She acknowledged that coming out was an important first step, but that changing policies and attitudes of others will take a much longer time.

Before she met with Chief Laux, she came out to her shift at a 10:00 AM roll call. The response surprised her. She says several officers told her they were torn about whether to ask if she was a lesbian.

SHARON LUBINSKI: They, in fact, have an internal dilemma about do they ask them are they gay. And if they ask them, is it intrusive? It's pointing out to me that by not coming out, I think those that you work with and-- see every day that there is a certain kind conflict that that creates for straight people because they realize that they're not knowing all of you.

CHRIS ROBERTS: Afterward, Lubinski wondered why she hadn't come out of the closet earlier. Fellow officers warmly embraced her decision. In fact, she says, she's never been hugged by so many cops in her life. This is Chris Roberts, Minnesota Public Radio.

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