Interview with Greg Miraglia
Mr. Miraglia began teaching at Napa Valley College in 1986 in Basic Police Academy Class #3. He served as the coordinator for Reserve Academy Classes 3 through 17 and as the Recruit Training Officer for Basic Academy Classes 29, 33, 36, and 40. Mr. Miraglia was appointed as the Dean of the Criminal Justice Training Center in 1999. In 2008, the college re-organized and he became the Dean of Career Technical Education.
Mr. Miraglia has a Master of Arts Degree in Education from the University of Phoenix and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business from Empire State College. He is a graduate of the P.O.S.T. Master Instructor Development Program – Class #4. He has written numerous articles for law enforcement professional publications and is the author of a Chemical Agents Workbook set.
Mr. Miraglia’s law enforcement career began in 1982 at the Walnut Creek Police Department where he served as a police dispatcher and reserve police officer. He worked at the Fairfield Police Department from 1988 until 1998 as a division manager and served as the deputy police chief of the Napa Valley Railroad Police Department from 2001 until 2007.
In addition to his work at Napa Valley College, Mr. Miraglia serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and is the National Program Coordinator for the Stop the Hate! program. Mr. Miraglia edited and wrote for the book, “Coming Out From Behind the Badge.”
Biography from www.napavalley.edu/gregory_miraglia
More about “Coming Out From Behind the Badge”
Law enforcement is a noble career that demands courage and personal commitment to serve our communities and society as a whole. Law enforcement personnel who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual have to have another kind of courage to be successful in a largely conservative and oftentimes homophobic profession.
We look to law enforcement officers to be role models, community leaders, and in some ways, “heroes.” But even law enforcement officers need good role models to be successful and this is particularly important for current or aspiring law enforcement officers who happen to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Law enforcement as a whole needs strong gay, lesbian, and bisexual personnel to be out at work in order to correct the misinformation, misperceptions, and definitions of what it means to have a sexual orientation other than heterosexual.
“Coming Out From Behind The Badge” is a book about being gay, lesbian, or bisexual in law enforcement. It includes stories from law enforcement personnel who have come out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual while preparing for or while working in law enforcement. The goal of this book is to inspire those who are still in the closet to step out “from behind the badge” and live their lives fully as their true selves. It is also hoped that this book will help the straight members of law enforcement better understand the internal and deeply personal struggles many of their own co-workers are dealing with on the job.
In 2005, a 24-year-old officer was found dead in his apartment after taking his own life. Responding officers found no note and no obvious reason for his decision to commit suicide. He was a highly successful officer who loved law enforcement. His apartment was full of pictures of him in uniform, working with his friends, and of other fellow officers. He had no sign of a girlfriend and among all of the pictures, there were none with any women. His fellow officers were stunned. His friends talked about knowing this officer, but only about small pieces of his life. Those who were closest to him said they never saw him with a girl and some speculated that he might be gay. The officers investigating this young officer’s death suspected the same. Why did he take his own life?
No one will ever know for sure, but how incredibly sad it would be if this highly successful officer who was so loved by his co-workers decided that he couldn’t be who he was out of fear of being rejected by those he loved and cared for so much. How sad it would be if he felt so trapped by being gay and a cop that he didn’t see the possibility of being both at the same time. That is what this book is all about. He is the officer who this book is intended to help and to save.
Book summary/information from http://www.comingoutfrombehindthebadge.com/
“COMING OUT FROM BEHIND THE BADGE”:
Why Greg Miraglia is Important
by Lauren Neal
Identifying as or demonstrating any of the behaviors stereotypically associated with homosexuality was once a formal disqualifier for becoming a police officer. In truth, heterosexual white males have long dominated the law enforcement profession. American society, however, is not composed only of straight, Caucasian men. In his book, Coming Out From Behind the Badge, Greg Miraglia notes that law enforcement officials, of all professionals, should be some of the best-versed and most competent in dealing with people, customs, backgrounds, and situations of the most diverse nature.
He is absolutely right.
Miraglia is unique in that he straddles two fields: law enforcement and education. He exemplifies the notion that education’s propensity for the progressive is a key resource in the diversification of the professional world, law enforcement in particular.
What will it take to inspire a desire to learn, accept, and love those qualities that differentiate each of us from the other?
Matthew’s Place interviews
July 27, 2009
MP: Good morning. So to begin our conversation: for this particular project I wanted to interview LGBT professionals and people who are successful in a lot of different fields. Which is really funny because it’s somewhat in the vein of the book that you edited.
MP: In the sense that I also think it’s really important for youth to have role models, or anyone to have role models, to look to, I would love if you could begin by talking about what sort of professional dreams and aspirations you had as an adolescent and if they changed over time at all.
GM: Okay. Well, ever since I was a little kid I had always wanted to be a teacher. Then, I got to chance to go on a ride-along with the deputy sheriff when I was about fourteen. That completely changed all my ideas about what I wanted to do. I fell in love with law enforcement in about an eight-hour period. I got involved in a cadet program as a freshman in high school. I remember very clearly … This was in 1978, and I’m not even sure if the APA – American Psychological Association – had already removed homosexuality as a mental illness … I think it was that same year. But by then or not, clearly law enforcement considered it to be a disqualifier.
GM: And I didn’t know that at my first meeting. But I certainly heard all the words. You know: “fag,” and “faggot,” and “queer.” The culture made it very clear that if you were gay there was no way that you were going to be accepted. So I completely kept it a secret. There wasn’t any way I was going to risk being tossed out or eliminated. And I was okay with that, I just kind of accepted that it was part of the culture and that’s what I needed to do. I did that for about twenty-five years.
MP: Goodness, wow.
GM: But obviously times have changed a lot. I don’t think I would have had – and this just may be my own underestimation of people – but I don’t think I would have had the career opportunities I had if I had been out. At that time. And I think it would have been a real struggle. I think it would still be a struggle today, as much as things have changed. In terms of dreams? That was my dream job. I just had to make some decisions and manage it that way. I don’t know that that would be the same advice I would give people today, you know, to just grin and bear it and keep things separate.
MP: I feel like most people, going into the professional world and trying to figure out what they want their careers to be, I feel like everyone struggles with whether or not they want to first be personally happy or professionally happy. Tell me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you made the decision that you were going to be professionally happy first, but you really had to wait for the times to change.
GM: Absolutely. That was very well said. And the same was really true in high school. I couldn’t be out in high school either. In 1978, ’79, ’80, ’81, there were no such things as [gay-straight alliances]. And if you were labeled a queer – which back then was a very, very demeaning term; today it has kind of evolved and a lot of kids, that’s how they identify, because it’s so inclusive of so many variations – but back then if you were labeled “queer” it would be as bad as calling someone the N-word, frankly. You could expect to have your locker damaged, you could be physically beat up. So even in social settings at school, that was just the way it had to be. And yeah, it’s the choice I made.
MP: What sort of advice would you have for people now who are struggling with that notion, whether or not they’re going to focus on their career or focus things that are personally important for them? What advice do you have for people who are trying to negotiate the two?
GM: It’s tough to say, “Well, now, today I’d do things differently,” because the times are different. I think if I were in the same position today that I was in ’78, hopefully I would do things differently, because times are different. Depending on your state, there’s certainly employment protection. In California there is. Being gay is not a mental illness. Law enforcement agencies are actually hiring people who are gay, recruiting people who are gay, because they want to diversify. It’s not that way all over the country, but in a lot of places it is. So I would say it’s not worth the sacrifice now, because you can find happiness, both personally and professionally, in society today. I think, at least what I discovered about myself is, that I underestimated how people would accept me, and how my profession would accept me, almost universally. I was always prepared, any time I told someone, or when I came out at work – I was always expecting the worst. And that just wasn’t the case. I was very well accepted. What I tell cops now, or young people who are cops who are thinking about coming out, is that the most important thing is that you’re a good person and a good cop first, one who happens to be gay. I think once people get to know you, and see that coming out hasn’t changed who you are and how you do the job, it could actually be a really good thing for you to come out. Obviously a very good thing for you personally, but also for the movement, and for helping people understand that not everybody’s the stereotypical “Jack” from Will & Grace.
MP: I totally agree. I perused your book, and one of the parts – the preface – really struck me. You wrote that law enforcement is a people profession and we expect law enforcement officers to be competent in dealing with people of all backgrounds. I never really thought about it quite in that sense before; you know, that law enforcement officers, of all people, should be the ones who are well-versed in and well-prepared to have a run-in with someone of any walk of life. I’m sure that has a lot to do with, and has had a huge influence on, your decision to speak out in your profession.
GM: For sure. There are so many differences in people that are not visible. Religion, disabilities, sexual orientation, just for three. Not to mention the idea that people at work or people that you work with may have a significant other in their life who is of a different nationality or race. Law enforcement, traditionally, has been a very straight white male dominated profession. And I still think that by and large it is 20 to 30 years behind the rest of the civil rights movement. It has a long way to go to catch up with the rest of society. But it’s making progress. I think the way that it’s making progress is that chiefs and sheriffs are learning that it’s important to have a variety of people within the ranks of law enforcement. Communities are expecting it. In this case, as more and more people come out, there are more and more applicants who don’t know anything else. They came out in high school, they’re very confident about who they are as a gay or lesbian person. That’s just their perspective. They wouldn’t dream of going back in [the closet]. Again, that’s not the case all over the country. But it certainly is in many places, and that’s different than it even was five years ago.
MP: Do you think that more diversity training and exposure at a younger age, for instance in schools, will help diversify not only your applicants but the people who eventually serve in the profession?
GM: Absolutely. This is very much a generational issue. I think the change in tone that you’re seeing in the military around “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” at the line level and as people move up the ranks, can be very much attributed to a person’s experience in high school and how they were brought up. The same is true in law enforcement. As the older generation of law enforcement leadership goes away and younger people are promoted … they’re not going to know anything else. “Oh yeah, I went to high school and college with gay people.” They’re not going to have the fears and the bias, even in some cases the bigotry that exists with some of the older people now. I think Judy [Shepard] said it best: you can almost draw a line today right around thirty-three or thirty-four years old. That seems to be kind of the great divide. Anyone younger than that has no problem with [homosexuality], and as you get older and beyond that, the number of people who struggle increases.
MP: You mentioned “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I wonder if, when you were beginning your career in the law enforcement profession, you saw any parallels between that policy presently and the way that law enforcement was structured.
GM: It very much was. Not in the form of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but in the form of “you’re not qualified.” In 1978, it was, in California, a disqualifier if you were a homosexual. That was a question that was asked, and it if was found out in your background investigation, then you would not be hired. It still is that way in some states. I just talked to a young person in North Carolina who was discovered to be gay. He was a working officer, and was fired for “having an alternative lifestyle.” It was documented in his personnel jacket. And there’s no employment protection [for LGBTQ persons] in that state. Getting back to 1978, it was a legitimate disqualifier. In fact, the Los Angeles Police Department had an undercover operation in their Internal Affairs unit that would actually go out and look for officers who were off-duty in gay bars, so that they could investigate them.
GM: So the APA’s decision to recognize that it’s not a mental illness, that was key. Since that time, it has been removed as a formal disqualifier. Now it’s much more cultural. And in the states that don’t have employment protection, it’s really discretionary, based on the attitude of the chief or the sheriff. Do I think it exists informally? Absolutely. Even in a lot of the departments in California, which I think most people think is fairly progressive … in very small departments in California, particularly up in Northern California and the Central Valley – all of the places that voted “yes” on Prop[osition] 8 – it’s still, culturally, very unacceptable. I guess a better way to say it is that if a person did come out, I think they would really struggle. Would they be a pioneer and would they have the opportunity to create change in that department? For sure. Because it only takes one person. Once one person comes out, that’s when the culture can begin to change.
MP: What do you see as being ideal in the law enforcement profession? In terms of what the spread of the officers would look like, and their attitudes?
GM: Well if I were a chief or a sheriff, responsible for a town, I would want my department to reflect the people whom I knew my department was serving. I would want a good distribution of men and women. I would want a good distribution of backgrounds based on race and nationality. I would certainly want people of different sexual orientations. I know no matter how “out” my community is or isn’t, I know there are gay people and bisexual people and transgendered people that live everywhere. Whether they’re visible or not depends on the culture. I would want a real mix. I would want to make sure that I had a hiring process and an organizational culture that really accepted everybody.
GM: Now, do I think that we’re going to eliminate bias and bigotry in law enforcement ever? No. I don’t think that we’re going to ever eliminate it entirely anywhere, in any segment of society. But can we create an opportunity for people to have equal opportunity? That is, a policy that allows for equal opportunity across the board? That’s what we need to be looking toward.
MP: It’s almost like politics in that sense. You want people who are like you to represent you. At least people who understand your issues and the things that you value. I think that’s great; to want the police to be the same way. To represent the people with whom they are expected to interact.
GM: And there are some great models out there. You know, DC Metro police department was probably the pioneer, in terms of putting together a very visible, very strong LGBT liaison unit. It was made up of gay and lesbian officers. I still look at them as a model. Believe it or not, LAPD and the LA Sheriff’s Office, just in the last five to ten years, have made some huge strides. I’d even say it’s a 180 shift. They’ve gone from having secret units that try to investigate gay cops to outwardly, openly supporting and recruiting gay officers. Not a lot of departments do that. And they have a pretty large contingent of out cops, male and female.
MP: That’s great. What are the complications, issues, and details that you have to consider being out in the workplace, that a lot of your co-workers might not have to think about?
GM: In the role I have now, working at a college, I really have to deal with two cultures. In the education field, being out as gay or lesbian is not a big deal at all. There are a lot of out gay and lesbian people at our college. As there are at most colleges. I think education is a much more liberal, much more open, much more progressive profession. The police academy located on campus, of course, involves the law enforcement culture, which is very opposite of that. I think I proceed with caution. How do I phrase it? I realize that law enforcement is still evolving. And in the particular county that we’re located in, it’s evolving very slowly. It’s a very close-knit, tight community. I’ve been working with and in the area for 23 years, so I’m very comfortable there. There’s probably not a cop in the county who doesn’t know me. But I think in some respects that has helped. When I did come out, no one ever said a negative word to my face, ever. I don’t know of anyone who has said, “Oh, I don’t want to talk to him again,” or “I don’t want to work with him again.” Now, I don’t know what people have said behind my back. I certainly think that any time someone is suspected of being gay in law enforcement it’s good for rumors, it’s good for discussion: it’s good gossip. But once you come out, it sort of loses that glamour. I don’t really have a good sense of if anybody’s really even talking about it now. I don’t wave a rainbow flag in my office. Other than in the classroom or if somebody brings it up I don’t talk about it a lot at work. I just focus on doing my job. I guess to answer your question, I’m cautious.
GM: I’m cautious because I recognize that the culture hasn’t evolved to nearly where it needs to be. Am I fearful? No. Because California has employment protection. I’m not fearful because I think I would lose my job. I am very secure that way, given the time that I’ve been there and because in California you can’t fire someone for being gay. Even if law enforcement protested and said, “Oh my goodness, we can’t have someone in that type of a leadership position who’s gay,” I’m protected.
MP: What do you think accounts for the difference in the openness that you feel in an educational environment, in regard to your sexuality, as opposed to a delay of progress in culture in the law enforcement realm?
GM: Well, I think that education as a profession has always been much more diverse. Certainly it has been much more diverse, by gender, forever. Women didn’t make it onto the patrol scene, they weren’t really hired as patrol officers until the very late 70′s. Men and women have worked in education forever. I also think that education has been much more open to new ideas and beliefs and diversity by virtue of the fact that people teach in different fields: English, the sciences, history… If you’re going to have a college environment that is going to offer all of those different topics you are going to draw people of different backgrounds to teach those topics. That’s just sort of, naturally, the way things happen. From there, a culture is created that I just think has a lot more diversity in its ideas.
GM: There are teachers that have struggled, too. Kevin Jennings wrote a series of books, One Teacher in Ten.
MP: They’re really great.
GM: Great books. Those are teachers that came out in the 70′s and 80′s. The same thing is happening in law enforcement, in the late 90′s and the first decade of the 21st century. Law enforcement is just behind the times. To go back to: why is law enforcement different? For the same reason that education is different, but for the opposite reason. Law enforcement has traditionally been very “straight white male” [dominated]. That goes back to its original culture, which I think reflects where the country was too, in the early 1900′s. Who had all the power? Straight white guys.
MP: Definitely: as a non-straight, non-white, non-guy, I understand.
GM: That’s what it was. If you wanted to be a cop in the 20′s and 30′s, you had to be male, Catholic, white, and Irish. That was kind of the stereotypical cop.
MP: As a lot of LGBT youth are thinking about what they want to do, and what kind of career they want to cultivate for themselves, what advice would you give someone? I know you are a major proponent of living your life fully and openly. Especially for youth that are in college or just finishing high school: what advice do you have for them?
GM: I think the most important think is don’t underestimate what you can do. Don’t take on law enforcement’s culture and say, “Well, I would never be hired because I’m gay,” or “I would never be hired because I’m a lesbian,” or “I would never be accepted,” because that is not the case. You can really do anything that you want to do. For me the most important thing is: be a good person first. Be a good cop first. Being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender: that’s just another piece of who you are. Albeit it’s an important piece. But it’s not all that you are. You know, you have a name, you have interests, you have talents and abilities, in addition to a sexual orientation. I certainly would not ever advise anybody to go into the closet, particularly someone who wants to go into law enforcement, because what that does, is it will cause you to lie. And while there may be an agency who doesn’t prefer to hire someone who is gay or lesbian, universally, if you lie at any stage of the application process or while on the job as a cop, you can be legitimately fired, and you will never be hired again. We have enough problems with cops that lie on the job as it is now. If you document the fact that you’re a liar, you’ll never work in law enforcement again.
MP: It also just prolongs and promotes a life of lies.
GM: It really does. It just becomes a vicious circle. That pattern of lying – I’ll call them white lies … I think it makes it even more difficult.
MP: Absolutely. To finish up, I’ll just ask you one more question, before I let you go.
MP: Because you are not only a cop, but a teacher as well, what are some ways that youth – or anyone in general – can go about starting to educate other people and themselves about issues that will be important to them professionally and personally? Especially in terms of diversity and being culturally aware?
GM: For LGBT kids?
MP: Sure, but really for anyone.
GM: Well, the best way is just to gain experience. To reach out and meet people who are different than you. For young people, that could mean going to college, and going to college in a place that is not the same as where you grew up. It’s to be open-minded and to reach out and to really realize that to understand and accept someone else does not mean that you have to agree with them. There is no mandate that to learn about someone else’s religion you have to adopt or agree with its beliefs. But to get comfortable with it and to understand how it is different from what you believe, you need to work at it. And I think the same is true in learning about different sexual orientations. To sit and have a conversation with me does not mean that you have to adopt the lifestyle or participate in it or like it or even agree with it; I don’t really care. Just understand that it’s a part of me and it’s who I am. For LGBT kids, I think the most important thing is that you come out. You talk about who you are. You share your stories. You give people a chance to learn, be enlightened, and to combat stereotypes.
MP: As a college student, I see a huge void in the desire for people to learn things. I think it’s also very telling of a lack of a desire to teach.
GM: I think that’s generational too. I think as more and more kids come out in high school and they develop that self-confidence to take them into their young adult life and into college, they don’t know any different. It’s just who they are, it’s who they have always been, their friends accept them. There’s that confidence. But if you’re coming out in an environment where you’re the only gay person and no one knows you and you’re sort of the first example, it could be a little daunting. But that’s the only way people are going to learn, is through experience. I think the other thing that’s important for every young LGBT person is to get involved. Life has not been made the way it is for you because people sat back and did nothing. Find a cause and whatever it happens to be that you’re passionate about and do something about it. Keep the movement going.
MP: Great. I’ll let you go now, but thanks so much for talking to me. This has been a great conversation.
GM: You’re more than welcome. All right Lauren.
MP: Thanks so much.
GM: Thank you.