by Lucy Hough
A slew of LGBT and allied public safety and law enforcement officials have recently launched Michigan Gay Officers Action League. The first of its kind in the state, MI-GOAL is a chapter of the larger national organization Law Enforcement Gays and Lesbians International.
Cole Bouck, president of MI-GOAL and employee of the Michigan Department of Corrections Executive Bureau, said that a resource for LGBT people in this profession is especially important because oftentimes, law enforcement officials feel the need to hide their sexual orientation, or else encounter problems because of it.
“First and foremost, (the organization’s importance) is just the ability to connect with other lesbian, gay and transgender people,” Bouck said. “The idea that we have people … who go in every day and lie about a little piece of their life, that they are LGBT, and yet they are asked to follow the laws of their state. For them to have to lie and hide is not just unfair, it’s wrong.”
Those who wish to be a part of the group can join anonymously if they feel they more comfortable doing so, and anonymity is guaranteed by the group. People can also become active members if they are someone who is paid or volunteer, full or part-time and are public safety or criminal justice professionals.
One of the organization’s first obstacles will be gaining the respect and recognition of the law enforcement community, especially because they are representing a demographic that is not usually seen in this particular profession. Bouck said that they have already received some hesitation from a group they tried working with, but he believes that such acknowledgment will come with time.
“I think any new organization struggles at the beginning to get themselves recognized and find their place at the table. We’re going to have that just because we’re new, and we know that,” Bouck said. “I think that LGBT organizations within certain professional circles struggle a bit more because it’s likely for LGBT people to be minimized; sometimes there’s a demasculinizing thing about it, sometimes you’re not taken seriously.”
Bouck, who received the Triangle Foundation’s Catalyst Award in 2008 and has spearheaded many postive changes for LGBT prisoners and MDOC employees, personally hasn’t had a problem with being out in his history as a corrections officer. But he knows that isn’t always the case, and hopes MI-GOAL will provide a community for people who are either afraid to come out or have had some resistance in the past.
“It has been good for me, but I know people within my department who are gay or lesbian and are afraid. I can’t tell anyone that it’s going to be OK because you don’t know it will be,” Bouck said. “I wish 19 years ago (that) there was at least some place that I could have contacted that would have made me feel like I’m not alone.”
Bouck first learned of organizations such as this 10 years ago in an online search. He attended the national convention in 2000 and was the only person to represent Michigan. In years since, he has seen more and more people from Michigan attend; this year, 18 Michiganders were present at the conference. MI-GOAL’s hope is to eventually hold the national conference in Michigan, but Bouck admitted that’s a long way off.
In the meantime, he hopes that MI-GOAL will be recognized not only as an LGBT organization, but also as a professional law enforcement and public safety group.
“It’s crossing that barrier to just get recognized as not just an LGBT organization, but one that represents a collection of professions whose sexual identity is just a part of who they are. We are seen as successful, skilled and professional individual who happen to be LGBT.”
Those interested in being a part of the organization to any degree can contact the groups e-mail address at [email protected]