By Longan Nguyen
Collegiate Staff Writer
Students in the CJ 216 Client Relations in Corrections course were given the opportunity to discuss about homosexuality in law enforcement careers with guest speakers from the Michigan Gay Officers Action League (MI-GOAL) on Wednesday, April 6.
Nikki Banks, assistant professor of criminal justice, says that neglecting to learn and understand different minority groups is a disservice in criminal justice.
“They need to learn and understand the different minority populations they’ll be working with in this field,” Banks said.
The course is described as “an examination of the social and psychological formation of attitudes, their cultural influences, and impact on minority perceptions.”
MI-GOAL Representatives Cole Bouck, Erin Linn, and James Sims gave personal accounts of their struggles while educating students on the different aspects of the relationship between the LGBT group and law enforcement. The organization offers active, retired, affiliate, and anonymous memberships and advocates equal treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) law enforcement professionals while promoting changes in homophobic attitudes.
Bouck, who serves as the interim legislative liaison for the Michigan Department of Corrections, is the president of MI-GOAL. Bouck was outed during his career.
“I was outed against my will early on in my career, he said. “I had a couple months with some pretty serious harassment on the job and I needed to take matters into my own hands to resolve it because the administration wasn’t able or willing to resolve it. For me, that kind of launched me into the moment. It’s been a positive experience for me. I think our department has come a long way.”
Erin Linn from the Meridian Township Police Department has been openly gay for her entire career. She works in the investigations unit as a Fraud Investigator and is the treasurer of MI-GOAL.
“I have been out for my entire law enforcement career,” she said. “I don’t announce who I am when I walk into a room, but I do not lie about either. I’ve been honest in interviews and I’m honest with the coworkers. I believe that that has greatly helped me throughout my career.” Sims is a resident unit officer at the Florence Crane Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Mich. and will be going back to uniform in June.
“I tried to break the stereotype, and a lot of my friends would say that they don’t see me as a gay person,” Sims said. “Being a gay person is only a small percentage of who I am in my personality. I am a corrections professional who happens to be gay, and I’m not going to let someone else step on me or my personal life.”
Students Kelsey Lamoreaux, Dana Chapman, Harvey Sandifer, and Brandon Mueller were class leaders for MI-GOAL’s visitation and had a class presentation that explored homosexuality both within prisons and the law enforcement work field.
“GRCC was phenomenal. They had great questions and good interaction,” Bouck said.
Banks is worried about the lack of diversity training in law enforcement, and identifies it as a two-fold problem.
“As Americans, we may think that we already know a lot about diversity just because we’re Americans, and so we take that for granted,” Banks said. “And then there’s also this ‘post-racial mindset’ in that it doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are or what culture you’re from, which isn’t true.”
During the presentation, there was a recurring critique on diversity training, especially in law enforcement, that implied room for great improvement.
“Our department puts on diversity training annually, it’s mandatory,” Linn said. “And yes it gets eye rolls.
There are officers who say ‘oh, we have to go to the nice class now.’
Diversity training is important, and I think it sometimes get the eye rolls because it’s not done very well. A lot of times, people will sit up there and talk at you academically. We personalize it.
The presentation ended with a Q&A panel.
“There’s a great concern that this may be the only course that they take delves into these topics, and so we cover as much material as we possibly can,” Banks said. “They are the future workers of criminal justice.”