Protesting and policing – can the two overlap?
Gay Pride may have drifted from its anti-establishment roots but is still a protest, a vitally important event for highlighting LGBTQ+ issues.
This year, for the first time, uniformed members of an Garda Síochána have been allowed march in Dublin’s Pride parade at the end of June.
It’s a hugely important step forward for the organisation, says Lora Bolger, an out gay woman who has been in the force for over 20 years.
There was a time, she tells us, when she hid her sexuality at work.
“This is going to sound bonkers but I thought, you can’t be gay and be a guard, you have to be straight.”
Her identity began to weigh on her after she was posted in Dublin’s Pearse St Garda station when she was in her 20s.
“I was getting my head around who I was but because I was a Garda I was terrified someone would see me [out with women] because obviously I wasn’t out in work.
“Even I used to go to gay bars but I’d make my friends go out and check there was no-one outside before coming out.
“I was just so paranoid, making up things like, ‘Oh, I went to this pub last night,’.
“You’re kind of living a double life, which isn’t healthy for anybody.”
Still, Lora insists it was her own worries rather than anything at work that kept her from coming out.
She was unsure of how her parents would react – but falling ill unexpectedly changed things.
Lora came out to her family after having heart surgery and say it was an “unbelievable” weight off her shoulders.
“The fact that I was so sick, it gave them this perspective on things.
“Once they knew, it didn’t matter about anyone else.”
Was there any reaction from her colleagues after she came out?
Not really, she says.
“I wouldn’t have been that vocal about it, I was private enough about it but if someone asked me, I told them.”
“Anywhere in life, not everyone is going to be completely embracing and understanding and there’s bound to be people who do have issues,” she says, diplomatically.
Still, not every gay guard has had as positive of an experience.
“I’ve spoken to retired members who were brought in for questioning about whether they were gay by their colleagues, which must have been just horrendous,” Lora says.
“Or those who went through things like a partner’s death but couldn’t speak to anyone about it and tried to deal with it in complete secrecy and maintain a front in work.”
This context makes the official Garda involvement in this year’s Pride all the more significant.
As a founding member of G-Force, a support organisation for gay Gardaí, Lora applied for members to be able to march in the parade in uniform in 2012 when Dublin hosted the European Gay Police Association Conference.An Garda Síochana/ Twitter
The request was denied. Lora never found out why. She and other members did take part that year but not in uniform.
The decision for 2019, as far as she’s aware, came from “on high” and wasn’t sought out by members of the force.
Why are things different now?
“I don’t know,” she says.
“Maybe it’s because we have a new commissioner and because there’s a big recruitment drive on and they’re trying to be more embracing of diversity.”
Overall she’s very happy that Gardaí can now march in an official capacity.
“It’s just an acknowledgement that the guards are more open, they are embracing of everyone in society and all strands of diversity.
“It’s important when you’re policing that you do reflect the society you’re policing.”
“Gardaí have to put the work in.”
Reaction to the news of the Garda participation has been mixed.
Paula Fagan, CEO of LGBT Ireland, says that she does welcome uniformed Gardaí taking part in Pride but thinks that the move needs to be backed up with changes in the system.
Her organisation wants to see all Gardaí, as well as civil servants, specifically trained in LGBTQ+ inclusion.
“We want guards to be saying we are inclusive, we will treat you with confidence, we understand the complexities involved but to do that they have to put the work in.
“It can’t just be one or two people in the force.”
Though lots of gay and trans people have had positive experiences with the Gardaí, she continues, many are still afraid to report crimes.
A “common thing”, Paula tells us, is gay people being blackmailed with intimate photos, particularly those who aren’t out, and being “terrified to go to the guards.”
There’s also a need for more dedicated LGBTQ+ liaison officers, Paula says.
“Someone very visibly to be out in the community, going to events so that when people are in difficult situations, they can say, ‘I know that guard’ so there’s trust.
“I’m hopeful but I haven’t seen concrete actions as yet.”
There is no official training on LGBTQ+ issues for Gardaí, Lora says, but G-Force has run programmes around the country for guards “with an interest in the area”.
She says she understands why some might be object to the Garda involvement in Pride, acknowledging that “certain groups wouldn’t have had the greatest experiences with guards.”
“You can’t please everyone but I think it’s a positive step forward.
“I also think having Gardaí in the parade will be positive for young gay kids to see and start their relationship with us in a positive light.”
Lora now wants people to give guards a chance to show that they respect LGBTQ+ people and the issues they face.
“There are a lot of guards out there who are good at their job. They mightn’t understand the exact language to use but they’ll be sensitive and you can explain to them.
“I would still encourage people to keep reporting, give guards a chance and if you’re not happy with how you’re being dealt with, you can make a complaint.”