In 2001, when I joined the police, homophobia was rife. In the Greater Manchester force I heard the word “queer” often, mainly from sergeants about prisoners. And when I came out to my senior officer, he told me he couldn’t condone what I did “as a homosexual”. In a secret document my chief superintendent wrote that he had considered moving me because of “concerns over victimisation resulting from PC Maxwell’s sexual orientation”.
For many straight cops, being gay was seen as unnatural. I moved stations and continued to police other gay men under outdated laws, with me and my colleagues often looking for gay men on the canal towpath we could punish for sex acts. Seniors officers directed us to do this because, they said, these men were causing a public nuisance.
So when I think about the case of Stephen Port – who was last week convicted of murdering four young gay men, whose killings detectives failed to link despite obvious clues – the notion of institutionalised homophobia is at the forefront of my mind. How much were officers’ judgments blinded by the so-called “lifestyle choice” of the victims?
A couple of years after I joined the force the Labour government repealed outdated homophobic laws on gross indecency and buggery. At this stage, homophobia in the police went underground, and the gay community understandably became complacent. Believing we were equal in the eyes of the law made us forget the dismissiveness, disinterest and victim blaming many of our LGBT brothers and sisters experienced at the hands of the police.
Friends of Port’s victims have spoken about their experiences of being brushed off by the police. Many LGBT people don’t report incidents or hate crimes to the force for this very reason.
When I transferred from Manchester to London as a detective after seven years I thought lessons had been learned about diversity following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. However, though people knew they could no longer outwardly use homophobic language in the workplace, they found other ways to express their disdain and prejudice.
I recently received a message from a gay officer who told me he was suffering homophobia within Scotland Yard. After giving him advice, I then saw him publicly praise the force for its gay tolerance. This is why any call for a public inquiry into the Port investigation will fail miserably, because LGBT people in the police will undermine it.
I became unwell with depression because of homophobia and racism in the police. I took the difficult decision of taking the police commissioner to an employment tribunal, but the force were furious with me. The court ruled I had been subjected to discrimination, harassment and victimisation based on my sexuality and race. The police then appealed against the judgment. I lost my job. An appeal judge upheld my complaints.
Only this month a gay man, David Cary, won compensation from the Met after a nine-year battle over its failure to investigate homophobic abuse claims against him. In response to this, citing my own case against the force, the Met said: “The way the organisation deals with homophobic crime and our internal practices and policies have changed dramatically since 2013.” After the Port case, can they really say that?
Members of the public told officers that the bodies of two young men being found in the same place was crucial, yet they were dismissed as not being important to the investigation – Port then went on to kill his fourth victim. If the bodies of two straight people were found in exactly the same place, weeks apart, would that not raise concerns that a pattern was emerging? How many deaths and attacks could have been avoided?
The police didn’t create the monster that is Port, but they did have a responsibility to investigate his crimes properly. The system, riddled with institutional homophobia as it is, needs to be dealt with.
When I challenged homophobia in the Met, not a single gay officer or LGBT organisation stood alongside me. Afterwards, I watched as the police commissioner mingled with gay celebrities and charities at an awards ceremony. A picture of inclusiveness was presented, to refute the notion that the force was homophobic. I recognise the game, but imagine how it feels to watch this, for those who have been mistreated by the force because of their sexuality.
Published by The Guardian on 27 November 2016.