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Wednesday, November 10,2010

Organizing for equal treatment

MI-GOAL advocates for equal treatment of LGBT public safety and criminal justice professionals

by Brian Bienkowski
A lot has changed for Cole Bouck in the past 20 years.

In 1991, Bouck, a gay man, was harassed and shunned after coworkers at the Michigan Department of Corrections found out about his sexual orientation. Though it was an “agonizing and debilitating experience,” Bouck knew he had to face the problem alone.


“Once the genie was out of the bottle, it wasn’t going back in,” said Bouck, now an interim legislative liaison at the department. “Administration tried to help but it really fell on my shoulders.”


So Bouck did something about it.


As president and cofounder of the Michigan Gay Officers Action League (MI-GOAL), Bouck is reaching out to others in similar situations. The organization, which was formed in April, is a statewide advocate for the equal treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) public safety and criminal justice professionals, and their non-gay allies. MI-GOAL is an affiliate chapter of Law Enforcement Gays and Lesbians (L.E.G.A.L.) International, an umbrella organization comprised of state, regional and international chapters.


Beyond advocacy, MI-GOAL serves as a place for LGBT public safety professionals to feel they belong, a conduit through which members can communicate with various agencies and a facilitator in improving the relationships between law enforcement and the LGBT community, Bouck said.


“The personal and peer support portion is vital,” said Erin Linn, MI-GOAL treasurer and an officer with the Meridian Police Department. “We would like to assist with both career advancement and matching members with a mentor within the organization.”


Linn, a lesbian, has never hidden her orientation and credits that for the support she has received throughout her career. That is not an option for everyone though, she said.


MI-GOAL board members have had mixed reactions from their employers regarding their involvement in the organization. Despite her history of support, Linn’s department has not been fully supportive of her role in the organization, though she would not discuss details.


The University of Michigan Department of Public Safety, however, has been just the opposite, said Heather McDonald, MI-GOAL vice president and officer with the department. McDonald, who is straight, has found the department to be welcoming and encouraging in her role.


Bouck is also quick to point out that the state Department of Corrections made great strides since his outing ordeal. He credits the efforts of Patricia L. Caruso, the department’s director, and greater overall awareness of LGBT issues.


“Any organization or professional group that supports staff and law enforcement professionals is a good thing,” said John Cordell, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections.


MI-GOAL was born out of the 2009 L.E.G.A.L. Conference where Bouck met others interested in forming a Michigan chapter. Bouck had low expectations for turnout at MI-GOAL’s first meeting, but was surprised to see a dozen people show up to help make the organization a reality.


The organization has five board members representing various geographic areas and law enforcement disciplines. Membership is open to active or retired public safety and criminal justice professionals. The organization has 15 members but Bouck expects that number to increase with time and outreach efforts.


There is an anonymous option for members that may have reservations about joining the organization. Membership dues are a one-time fee of $20 and an annual renewal fee of $50.


Though his personal situation has improved, Bouck sees MI-GOAL as filling a definite need in Michigan’s public safety professional landscape. The organization is a support system for those in situations like Bouck found himself 20 years ago.


“I felt like I was the only one,” Bouck said. “But I knew I wasn’t.”


For more information, go to www.mi-goal.com.

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