THE DECISION to retain the ban on gay gardaí wearing uniforms during a Pride march tomorrow has been criticised by the president of an association of gay police officers, which held its conference in Dublin for the first time this week.
The decision was “a missed opportunity” to increase the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) officers in this country said Chief Supt Herman Renes, president of the European Gay Police Association (EGPA).
A sizeable contingent of the EGPA will march in uniform at the Pride celebrations tomorrow while their Garda colleagues march in plain clothes.
A spokesperson for the Garda press office said yesterday that officers attending Pride were off duty and as such were prohibited from wearing uniforms. The policy contrasts with usual practice in Britain and across Europe where police officers have been wearing uniforms in such marches for much of the past decade.
Sgt Paul Franey, secretary of G-Force, the Garda support group for LGBT officers and vice-president of the EGPA, said he did not wish to comment on the ban. “I want to focus on the positive, we have much to celebrate in terms of bringing the EGPA conference to Dublin and we have been treated with the utmost respect by the Irish State this week.”
Special permission was given by the Garda Commissioner to allow off-duty gardaí to wear their uniforms at a reception in Áras an Uachtaráin welcoming EGPA delegates. On Wednesday about 40 uniformed members of An Garda joined 70 police officers from across Europe and the United States for a reception with President Michael D Higgins.
In his address the President praised An Garda for moving away from its traditional image as a conservative organisation to winning employer of the year at the Gay and Lesbian awards two years ago. “I want you to know how proud I am that our own gardaí have come to a point where they could be of assistance in organising a conference like this,” he said.
He noted that despite positive changes such as the bringing into law of civil partnership for same-sex couples, which he added fell short of “full recognition in a rights sense”, there were still challenges. “Some members of our society retain closed minds and persistently refuse to accept anything which they would define as departing from the norm.”
His speech received sustained applause from delegates from 18 countries across Europe. The largest delegation was from the Netherlands, which included EGPA president Herman Renes.
“It was a brave speech by your President,” he said afterwards. “This is not just about the LGBT community; this is about human rights, and when you tackle this issue it shows how an organisation is committed to tackling many other issues of discrimination.”
Also representing the Dutch police force was Willemijn Ahlers, an officer who in the past few years made the transition from being a man to a woman with the full support of her colleagues.
At the EGPA conference in Dublin Castle yesterday Minister for Justice Alan Shatter described the event as “momentous”. Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan told the conference he was proud to be attending with members of his organisation “who feel confident to be open about their sexual orientation and identity in our workplace”.
He said he was aware that not all LGBT members felt as comfortable.
“If their reluctance flows from fear or anxiety on their part because of acts, omissions, attitudes, glances or atmosphere in the workplace – then that is a challenge for us. And it is a challenge which we cannot afford to ignore.”
The conference yesterday also discussed findings in a report conducted by Dr Mel Duffy and Dr Vera Sheridan of DCU reflecting the experience of 29 lesbian, gay and bisexual Garda members.
In addition to positive changes, the report Culture of Diversity: Sexual Orientation in An Garda Síochána found a lack of leadership at management level in An Garda when it came to visibly supporting lesbian, gay and bisexual officers, which led to participants remaining “closeted and fearful of a lack of career progression if open about their sexual orientation”.
The report was welcomed by G-Force founder Sgt Franey, who said despite some incidents of “homophobic banter” in the force he was hopeful about the way the issue was progressing.
“I think these past few days have been the best time ever to be gay in the Garda,” he said.