Listen: More openly gay Minneapolis police officers means a change in culture

MPR’s Brandt Williams talks with U.S. Marshal Sharon Lubinski, the first openly gay Minneapolis police officer; and Lt. Rob Allen, the first openly gay male Minneapolis police officer, about the change in culture over gay and lesbians within the police department since they came out in the 1990s.


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SPEAKER 1: Up next, we're going to be taking an inside look at change unfolding in the Minneapolis Police Department right now. It was nearly 20 years ago when a Sergeant became the department's first openly gay officer. And the city has just recently sworn in its first openly gay police chief. The number and the visibility of out lesbian and gay officers in Minneapolis has risen over the years, and some police officials say that's changed the culture of the department. Brandt Williams has our story.

SPEAKER 2: Do you, Janee Harteau, solemnly swear that you will support the Constitution of the United States of America--

BRANDT WILLIAMS: As newly appointed chief Janee Harteau took the oath of office earlier this month, her longtime partner, Sergeant Holly Keegel, stood just a few feet away. Harteau, who has been reluctant to talk publicly about her personal life, later thanked Keegel for her support and called Keegel her better half.


Also a plodding Harteau ascent to Chief in the City Hall rotunda that day was US Marshal Sharon Lubinski. She's a former Minneapolis Police officer who once served as assistant chief under Tim Dolan. She joined the force with Harteau in 1987 and is regarded by many as the trailblazer who made Harteau's promotion possible. In 1993, Sergeant Lubinski came out as the first openly gay Minneapolis Police officer. She made her announcement in an article in a Sunday edition of the Star Tribune.

SHARON LUBINSKI: I just felt like that I think if I came forward that there might be a change in how people view gays and lesbians in both Minneapolis Police as well as in the community. And I-- and I think it helped start making some changes along those lines.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: Lubinski says her coming out helped start an attitude shift among her fellow officers. She says, police officers as a group are a little more socially conservative than the general population. But Lubinski says, she's found that officers are willing to judge their fellow officers by their job performance, not their sexual orientation.

SHARON LUBINSKI: If you're pulling your weight, if you're doing your job, a lot of the cops were just extremely supportive.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: Lubinski opened the closet door far enough to enable officers, like Lieutenant Rob Allen to walk through. Allen became one of the first openly gay male police officers on the force when he came out in 1994 after he'd been on the job for several years. He joined the force in the late '80s, a time when Allen says Minneapolis Police officers often raided adult bookstores, places where closeted gay men often met for sex. And Allen says officers sometimes took pride in exposing them.

ROB ALLEN: And they used to brag about the fact that men who were arrested in those raids on adult bookstores had committed suicide. That seemed to be like one of the goals that they tried to achieve with these arrests.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: As with the broader society, Allen says police officers attitudes about gays and lesbians has changed over the years. He says the increasing number of openly gay officers, especially those in leadership positions, has helped accelerate the evolution of attitudes inside the department. The MPD doesn't keep an official tally of the number of gay and lesbian officers, but Allen estimates about three dozen of the department's 850 officers are gay men and women. And Allen says, under former Chief Tim Dolan, gays and lesbians made up more than half of the deputy chiefs and precinct inspectors.

ROB ALLEN: At the Academy, we used to teach a class and working with the GLBTQ community. And one of the comments was, if you have a problem with it, you're going to have a problem working with GLBTQ community. You are going to have a problem because you will be working for GLBTQ people. And now everyone in the department is.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: Chief Harteau is making changes in the leadership of the Department. She recently removed Allen as deputy chief of investigations and reassigned him to the fifth precinct as a Lieutenant. The Minneapolis Police Department is not the only law enforcement agency that is changing with the times. Chuck Wexler is the Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement think tank based in Washington, DC. He says police Chiefs around the country increasingly see the need to recruit and retain gay police officers.

CHUCK WEXLER: It's somewhat similar to on the race issue, where departments recognize that they had to reflect the communities that they serve.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: Despite the strides made by gay and lesbian officers in Minneapolis, Lieutenant Rob Allen says, he knows closeted gay officers in other departments in Minnesota who are too afraid to come out. He says he understands how tough it is, but he says the only way the culture will improve is for those officers to come out and reach out for help if they need it. Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio News, Minneapolis.

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