You’re right about perceptions. And I should note that when I came onto the scene of LGBT journalism – the folks providing information were Morris Kight, Mark, Donna, and Sandra and Mitch Grobeson from the LAPD – until you and a few others started coming out.
Given the “outsider” status and the history of gays and the LAPD – it didn’t seem “overly dramatic” at the time.
I don’t know if you recall, but I did try to get the LAPD “point of view” – much to the chagrin of the Frontiers news editor, Aslan Brooke. We got into a number of heated discussions about it.
But I’m glad you commented and added your story to the history of this time. My father was a colonel in the Air Force so I have some idea about following orders and being a “good soldier.” That was just not what I perceived so it’s helpful to know.
Thanks and hope you’re well.]]>
I was also, the only police officer who met with (then) Commander Robert Taylor and requested permission to appear in uniform at the CSW Festival in June of 1991. Being a Reserve Officer gave me the luxury of coming-out, without risking my personal career. Accompanying me at the meeting were (as Karen accurately reported) members of the Gay and Lesbian Police Advisory Task Force, Donna Wade, Mark Haskins and Sandra-Farrington Domingue. Commander Taylor, who was the official “LAPD Liaison” to the GLBT community was more than gracious and agreed that the LAPD was overdue to accept gay officers into our ranks. He was also politically savvy enough to “recommend” the decision to the Chief’s office and pass-the-buck.
Unfortunately, the day that Commander Taylor sent his recommendation to the Chief’s office, Daryl Gates was out of town, and Assistant Chief, Robert Vernon, (high priest of the “God Squad”) was at the helm. Fortunately, he had bigger issues to deal with, since that was the same day that he was found guilty of accessing confidential files via a police computer to assist a political friend to defame an opponent in a local election. The city received a million dollar fine and Vernon was a bit gun-shy to make another political gaffe.
It was actually Bob Vernon (who had previously issued a 14 page memo on LAPD letterhead about “Why Homosexuals Cannot Be Police Officers”) who gave us permission to appear in uniform at CSW – although Chief Gates attempted to deny our permission upon his return to L.A. Unfortunately, the letter of permission was wisely published that same morning in the Daily News, and Gates begrudgingly allowed us to appear at a recruitment booth in uniform. He did, however, stipulate that it had to be in “Class-A” uniforms (long sleeved shirts, neckties and hats) just to make us miserable as we could be in the late June heat. And he did promise that our appearance was a “one time event” and that he would never approve it in the future.
To be honest, at the time, I had not considered the consequences of my actions. While not closeted, I was also not completely out to everyone I knew at the time. We were the lead story on two national network news broadcasts, as well as CNN. Full color photos of us appeared on the front page of the L.A. Sunday Times. We were overwhelmed with interest and intrigue – and anyone who didn’t know I was gay, was now hit with it from every angle.
On a good note, tt actually created positive media attention about the LAPD in a long time!
Two months later came the real test – would we be allowed to appear again at a recruitment booth for the Sunset Junction Street Fair. This time, the Police Advisory Task Force changed their tactics, appealed the City Council and Police Commission to order the LAPD to staff a booth at the Fair, based on the positive response from CSW. With the assistance of Joel Wachs and others, Chief Gates was ordered to have a booth at the Fair.
Chief Gates not only gave his permission, but he coordinated the effort with the department’s Equal Opportunity Office, paid the officers (we were technically “off-duty but in-uniform” at CSW) and approved appearances at future gay events as part of their regular schedule.
The fact was that Daryl Gates was a “good soldier”. He had his opinions (some of them really off-base and uneducated), and you could count on him to stand by his opinions without fault. But, when ordered by his superiors to do something, even if it conflicted his personal opinions, he would obey. Just as he expected that us officers would obey his commands.
I learned to respect that about Chief Gates. You could count on him and trust him to cover your back as long as you followed the rules. I actually resigned from the LAPD when I no longer trusted the Chief, Bernard Parks. Chief Gates accomplished a lot during his tenure – and he made his fair-share of ignorant and misguided quotes to the press. But officers working under him knew that he could be trusted.
I think that it is important to understand the mindset that his generation had to undergo during their careers. When Daryl Gates and his cronies joined the LAPD, it was a felony to have gay sex in the state of California. Men were arrested and served long prison terms for doing what we now take for granted. Between 1973 – 1983, the social mores and laws changed – and we suddenly expected police officers to embrace those who several years prior were criminals. As a group, we went from “arrest and incarcerate” to “do not discriminate”.
I’m not making excuses, but having experienced being a patrol cop, I kind of empathize with their frustration. Nonetheless, it’s the law and all members of the department must be re-educated and comply. I also agree with that, although I understand that it’s not easy.
Daryl Gates was bull-headed. He never wanted to apologize nor admit that he was wrong. This is what the GLBT community discovered, and so as long as he was “ordered” to have gay officers recruiting and working as liaisons, he was OK with it. After all, it wasn’t his decision.
That being said, the last time I met the Chief while on duty was at the annual Halloween debacle in Hollywood (not West Hollywood, where the Sheriffs actually have a handle on the party). I was about to have his car towed from a posted “No Parking” area when he came up and threw an arm over my shoulder, called me by name and asked how I was doing. Like John Smith, I really believed in his sincerity.
Just prior to his retirement, Chief Gates published his memoirs in a book, “Chief: My Life in the LAPD”. LAPD officers wanting to get a copy signed by Gates purchased the book and inserted their business card to have it personalized. Boxes of books were then shipped up to Parker Center where Gates would inscribe each book with “To Officer…” and signing his name beneath the title, “Chief”. I submitted my copy, not knowing whether he would bother to sign it or not.
When the box of books returned to Hollywood Division, mine was the only one with a personal inscription: “Paul, Thank you for your service to help make the LAPD the finest. Best from your “CHIEF” Daryl Gates.”
Daryl Gates was loved by conservatives, hated by liberals, but respected by his officers. The other comments expressed here, including Karen’s, are valid opinions, but overly dramatic. Having lived the experience of being the first LAPD cop to “out himself”, deal one-on-one with Chief Gates, and survive for more than a decade as an openly gay officer, I must say that I admired his honesty, integrity and will miss him. While he could never muster the words to say, “I was wrong” or “I have learned…” I believe that he did learn and actually come to appreciate our community as more than just a flock of felons.
Unlike John, I never had to trade in my ID card to get a new one signed by Bratton, and I am proud to still have an ID card signed by Chief Daryl F. Gates.]]>
Actually, I think you forgot that I wrote a piece for Frontiers on how much you liked and respected Chief Gates and the loyalty he inspired in LAPD officers such as yourself. I got hell for that from some LGBT folks who were not very pleased with the LAPD and basically thought I was a “traitor.”
I thought I was being fair.
In fact, perhaps you don’t remember, but Mitch and Tom were among my harshest critics.
Anyway – thank you for comparing me to Jm Newton, one of the top LA Times reporters covering the LAPD. But I was never quite that good.
And I know this may be hard to believe given your opinion of me – but I truly get how much you honored Chief Gates and even if I don’t share your point of view, I am sorry for you loss.]]>
I am John Smith, that training officer from Foothill Division back in 1991. For those who may find my opinions objectionable, and tone offensive, I would like to point out that I HONORABLY RETIRED as of April 14, 2008. I retired after being hit by a car while chasing a gangbanger with a gun, and my back was broken. At the time of my retirement, only two of the five who came out in June of 1991-remained on active duty. So, for those in the mood to “complain to LAPD” I say complain away-LAPD no longer has control over my remarks, I am an “ordinary Joe” these days.
Looking back to June of 1991, and for those of you who choose to review the video footage of the time, you will see NONE OF THE 5 who came out in 1991 “bashing” the LAPD or Chief Gates. In fact, we made serious efforts to prevent that from occurring then and over the years that followed. Because we wanted to extend an “olive branch” to Chief Gates, and the department. It was for this reason, I and others agreed to appear in uniform ONLY IF Mitch Grobeson was NOT present-he has always been a less than helpful person unless it suited his own needs and agenda. I-We all felt that it was time to put aside the hostility and get on with being “a family” of officers. I (and others felt) this further antagonism of The City and Chief over past problems with the gay community would be counterproductive to what we wanted to accomplish which was to put a face on gay and lesbian officers working within the LAPD. To clearly demonstrate that we were in the ranks and we were honorably serving Then People of Los Angeles.
It was clear that we all faced institutionalized homophobia. Institutionalized bias was still present right on through the tenure of Chief Bratton and still is in all law enforcement-not just at LAPD as this article would like to make it sound. Chief Gates and LAPD were reflective of the time and not far out of step with law enforcement practices at the time. In fact, over the years, I interviewed for other California law enforcement agencies as late as 2004. I found that bias within California law enforcement community still exists even with all the current state laws which prohibit such practices. Chief Gates in no way can be blamed for this bias. The State of California, the gay community, and The Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training all share the blame-so let’s stop all the Chief Bashing. Let’s start to practice some of that “tolerance” our community is always talking about and demanding from others.
Truth be told, had Saint Rodney King pulled over and submitted to arrest like a normal person should and would-June 21st. 1991 and our coming out would probably never have happened. So let’s be honest with this-Mitch, The five of us, The Gay and Lesbian task Force, Rodney King, Chief Gates, and Joel Wachs all came together at a place in time and made it possible for us to come out openly as Gays and Lesbians that day. There was no magical plan-we fumbled along and made the best choices we could with situation as it was at the time. Yes, even Chief Gates gave his consent for us to come in uniform that day-he signed off on the idea!
After coming out, I did a brief tour of duty at Parker Center on the 6th floor in press relations. This is the floor where The Chief’s office was. One day, while in the elevator, he stepped in. He not only did he called me by my first and last name, but asked how I was doing. This was not some half hearted comment-I believe he really wanted to know. He was not the one-eyed, horned monster the gay community made him out to be. After AB101 went down to defeat, the gay community began to run amuck in the streets of Los Angeles, almost identical to that which occurred after prop 8 passed. I was on my way home from work when I got a panic call from The Watch Commander at Foothill station. I was ordered back to the station and told “a car will be waiting for you”. When I asked, “Why” I was simply ordered to come to the station and be ready for duty.
Once I walked into the station, I was told by the watch commander that Chief Vernon had called the station and ask that I (by name and rank) be sent to the Los Angeles Airport Command Post where an ABA101 protest was underway. Chief Glenn Levant and Lt Fred Nixon would meet me upon my arrival. During my drive to LAX I wondered what qualified me for such a telephone call or assignment-I decided to be true to my oath of office and my values if given the chance.
Once in the command post, I was asked what my opinion of the protest was. I spoke candidly and told Chief Lavant, “equal opportunity means the equal opportunity to go to jail-if they enter the airport or runways put me on the skirmish line; I brought my helmet chief and baton.” They all seemed to be a bit shocked at my response-yet, this was always my approach to anything to do with the GLBT community-equality means just that. Make no mistake about it; many of us, including Chief Gates, were sorting this out as we went. We made mistakes and we had successes all along the way-Joel Wachs is a true hero in all of this. He is a man I still deeply respect from those days-just like Chief Gates.
I did go to Chief Gates “Family Retirement” the day he left-that was a special day and I still remember it well. As he walked among us, his officers, I crossed paths with him again. He thanked me for my loyalty to the department, smiled, called me by name and shook my hand. I was humbled by this. I still am to this day. Even now, I look back on the years of 1984 to 1992 with fondness and consider them to be special time in my life. As new chiefs came and went-I took great pride in my ID card which had Chief Gates name on it. I was forced to give it up when Bratton switched to new ID’s. I did not get that ID Card back when I retired and I am still disappointed in this. I means nothing to anyone other than me.
When Randy Simmons was killed, I was among the hundreds of officers who gave The Chief a 3 minute, nonstop, standing ovation. Not even Chief Bratton got this level of respect and affection from the rank and file. To say I respected and admired him is an understatement. It’s is now clear that no amount of effort by the LA News Media will kill his memory among men and women like myself. He was the last of the great Chiefs of Police.
I got the news of his passing early in the morning when I was in Mexico. It came via TEXT message which I forwarded to others in my cell phone. From Los Angeles to the Middle East the word of his passing went through our ranks-both active and retired- like wild fire. From South America to Africa and places in between-the sad news spred among us. Like other LAPD officers, the moment I got access to my Face book page, I changed the photo on my page from me to one of him and I. It’s from my graduation in 1985; I am at full attention rendering him a salute in full LAPD Class-A uniform. I think I will leave my page this way for some time.
I was not able to attend his service, yet LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Hillman, who was close to Gates, said, “Shortly before he died, an LAPD pilot maneuvered his helicopter outside the window of Gates’ hospital room. Badly sickened and weakened by the disease, Gates nonetheless rose from his bed, put on his SWAT hat and stood at attention at the window with tears streaming.” I can just see my beloved chief doing this. Honor and integrity like this is hard to find in our progressive society today. It is this quality that has made him the larger than life man he was and will always be.
I have spent many a day reflecting back to those days as I go about my retired life as a Texan. I came across an Op-ed Article written by Jim Newton in the Sunday edition of the LA TIMES on April 18th. In this article, Newton refers to an E-mail he received from The Chief. I would like to take a paragraph or two from this article, make it my own, and direct it right at Ms Ocomb, Mr. Camp and Mr. Coleman. “You know not what you are saying. You have crossed the line. So I am resorting to the kind of pejoratives you so dislike in me as Chief (Remove “Chief”-insert my name and rank “Senior Lead officer –retired”). I am calling all of you miserable no good SOB’s. I am willing to back up my statement (even with a broken back) in any way you choose. In other words, I am calling you ass holes out…let me know how you assholes would like to settle this-cowards that you are” Those were my Chiefs words to the LA Times Staff, and these are now my words now to each of you; members of my own community which I have come to loath. I guess about the only thing we have in common is our sexual orientation-Thank God!
I lived those days while he was Chief and for 25 years I wore the uniform of The LAPD proudly. Later in my career/life I stopped dealing all together with the GLBT community in LA all together. After seeing how that community expresses their political agendas with violence- violence like I saw in November 2009 after prop 8 passed-I have nothing in common with you.
As a gay man, I respected and admired Chief Gates.
I deeply offended by you Ms Ocomb and your chief bashing. Most pointedly the final paragraph where you speak of his His “long-time companion?”-you truly show your lack of professionalism as a credible journalist with those remarks. As for Mr. Coleman and Camp, you seem to embodied everything I came to dislike about the GLBT community in Southern California and illustrate the reasons why my life partner and I fled California for Texas.]]>
Firat of all, of course the contemptible, wildly homophobic Gates described then closet case Joel Wachs as “a great friend” and a “super guy” since Wachs led the way in returning Gates to his destructive Reign as LAPD Chief after Melanie Lomax (closeted or not, she did the right thing, God love her) and the Police Commission suspended Gates post-Rodney King. Wach’s utter betrayal of his own kind and the City of Angels made the ’92 Riots virtually inevitable, with all the death and destruction that ensued. Wachs is now gone to the East Coast, but the rest of us still live here and have to deal with his and Gates’ hateful, cowardly, self-serving and destructive legacy.
Gates made a sly reference to who has the arm on whom when he asked Wachs whether or not Wachs would make a public issue of his own sexual orientation. As Wachs admitted to Gates, of course he wouldn’t, since he was a political closet case at the time, like so many others of the “love me I’m a liberal” political class at the time. So he and the others on LA City council made lame excuses and contiued to ignore the LAPD’s flagrant violations of the 1979 employment discrimination ordinance that Wachs himself wrote. It was only beginning with the 1988 Grobeson lawsuit that began to force the LAPD to iteslf follow the law rather than routinely violate it. San Francisco had Harvey Milk. We had to put up with Wachs, his kind and their “defenders.”
Well, not completely. Some us refused to default to them and outed Wachs for his rank betrayal. For that he tried to get me fired from my day job at the time. He failed to do so because Leroy Walker (bless his soul) had my back and felt just as strongly (if not more so) about Wach’s betrayal, it being self-evident. I’m still here, on the beach, alive and kicking, and yes, still a little crazy after all these years (who wouldn’t be in a place like this? jajaja), as is, apparently the LAPD itself, once again back to its rule crazy, Gates’ Legacy habits of routine undercover arrests in the parks and shock and awe mass arrests in the Dodger Stadium parking lot (what next, the Gates Battering Ram, driven by his ghost?). Wachs is now with the Andy Warhol Foundation, engaged in a characteristically bizarre, utterly self-serving, obsessive feud with the New York Review of Books, as recently (and rather entertainingly) chonicled in the NYOB’s letters section.
BTW, there’s a sensational post on LAObserved.com by former LA Times Reporter David Cay Johnston, with an interesting and readable “profile” of just what a repulsive crook Gates in fact was, together with that of the Weak Kneed LA Times, which eventually refused to publish Johntson’s stories on Gates’ high crimes due to what Johnston describes as rank intimidation by Gates. But what do we expect from a bankrupt paper that’s never had a really openly gay or lesbian staff writer or staff columnist, who’s present maximum leader is business bottom feeder Sam “everyone likes pussy” Zell and which looks to be iminently foreclosed on by it’s biggest unpaid creditor, the mega predatory JPMorgan Chase, run by imfamous Bankster/Gangster Jamie Dimon.
As for Daryl Gates himself: if you seek his monument, look around. For now, further affiant sayeth not. But we’ll be waiting for them–I wouldn’t have it any other way.]]>
I cannot think of a more demented, destructive force unleashed upon Los Angeles in my life. I cannot make the decision of who was worse: the Los Angeles police department or the Orange County version. Both were tremendously hated by ordinary people, and both went far out of their way to gratuitously insult and degrade anyone they encountered who might be perceived as gay.
(By the way, when I worked for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in the mid-90′s, staff and district attorneys were openly contemptuous of Police Chief Willie Williams most likely only because he was black. My immediate supervisor proudly told me of her attendance at a retirement party for Detective Philip Van Atter, the loser who helped blow the O.J. Simpson case: she told me that when police chief Willie Williams spoke, the law enforcement crowd ignored him, people were casually talking to one another. But when Daryl Gates appeared to speak, accompanied by klieg lights and the thunderous chants of “Chief! Chief! Chief!” everyone, including D.A. Marcia Clarke, stood to applaud.
When I worked for Gates’ attorneys I lifted his home address from their files and my friend, the novelist James Robert Baker, and I drove to Gates’ home to see what kind of place the Los Angeles Police Chief lived in. What we found was most likely his home away from home, a shabby, tacky condo located in Highland Park near downtown L.A. We could easily imagine Gates inside at night, seated in front of a TV screen, a bottle in one hand and a gun in the other.
As for the long-time companion mentioned in his obituary, it is most likely a mistress or sex buddy. Following his retirement, I discovered a tiny news item buried on page 34 of the Los Angeles Times: his wife was divorcing him. Of course she would; who could stand to be trapped in the same home with him following his bitter retirement?
Ken Camp, Los Angeles]]>