EDITORIALS

RON ZAHARIA – A WPS Trailblazer

Gay Rights are Human Rights

Gay rights have been a hot topic in 2013.

American citizens are deeply divided on issues related to gay marriage and same-sex benefits.

A Country divided even though national public opinion polls since 2010 have shown majority support for same-sex marriage.  It’s interesting to note support for same-sex marriage often correlates with lack of religious fundamentalism, young age, higher education or residency in the Northeast or West Coast.  Women are also more likely to support same-sex marriage than men. (Source – Wikipedia)

I struggle with the idea that people from the Gay and Lesbian community have to fight for civil rights in an enlightened, free and democratic society.  It makes me appreciate the courage of retired Police Constable Ron Zaharia, an openly gay member of the Winnipeg Police Department who joined the Organization long before I started my career in January of 1987.

Ron was a physically fit, strikingly handsome, confident man who appeared to enjoy large acceptance from the majority of his co-workers.  There were, of course, those who struggled with the idea of an openly gay Police Officer.  I have no idea what kind of challenges Ron may have suffered during his career but I would be shocked if he didn’t have a story or two to tell.

I worked with homophobic Officer’s during my career in Policing and was always confused by their animosity and hostility towards gay men.  I could never get my head wrapped around the threat gay men posed to straight men.  I for one was glad Ron was gay.  With blonde flowing locks and chiseled abs he made average looking men like me virtually invisible to any woman in our immediate vicinity.

For the most part, Ron blended into the Police crowd.  Although he was openly gay he wasn’t “obviously” gay and didn’t make his sexuality an issue in the work place.  He came to work, punched the clock, took his calls and collared his fair share of criminals just like everybody else.

To me, Ron Zaharia was an impressive individual.  Policing is an undertaking that demands a certain amount of bravery, heart, determination and interpersonal savvy.  Confronting the evildoers among us requires a certain mindset, a mindset often compared to the sheepdog.  A burning desire to protect the flock from those in society that mean to do us harm.  Ron was a sheepdog just like the rest of us and presented himself as a man with great passion and pride.

Most people understand a career in Policing requires a certain amount of courage, but imagine the almost unquantifiable courage it took to be an openly gay Police Officer in the 1980’s.  Yet, some twenty-seven (27) years later, members of the gay & lesbian community are still fighting for equal societal rights.

Is it any wonder homosexuals still struggle with the stigma attached to their sexuality.  Is it any wonder many homosexuals still keep their dirty little secret bottled up inside, afraid to expose themselves to our repressive society.

I saw an exceptional experiment the other day on television.  A group of young people, armed with video cameras went out on the street and conducted interviews with everyday people.  The question they asked was if they believed homosexuality was a choice.  Predictably, several people answered they believed it was.  Once they committed to their answer the immediate follow-up question was, “When did you choose to be straight?”  The reactions were immediate, a red face, a perplexed look and an immediate sense of enlightenment when they realized that sexuality was simply not a choice.  These were decent, hard-working members of our society.  People who would likely say they were accepting, non-judgmental and non-homophobic.  I suspect they learned a lot that day.

The issue of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgendered) Police Officers was explored in a 2010 documentary called “Badge of Pride.”  The story line featured four (4) main characters that shared their experiences from behind the badge.  The documentary probes areas little explored and rarely discussed.  It also asks hard questions, like, “Why join a club that doesn’t want you as a member?” & “Will the force be with you if you’re gay?”

At a time of conflict and war in dozens of Countries around the world, it amazes me that people still find the time to sit in judgment of a group of people whose greatest crime is to love someone of the same-sex.  It seems to me our world is a bit short on love these days.  You’d think people in a “socially evolved” society would get past their own bias and open their arms and minds to members of our gay community.

I recall running into Ron the day he hung up his Police boots.  He was in the basement hallway at the Public Safety Building heading for the door after cleaning out his locker.  As I bid him adieu, a troubling thought crossed my mind.  I wondered why Ron was leaving so quietly.  In my mind, his retirement was well-earned and should have been celebrated.  As a ground breaker for gay Police Officers I believed he was more deserving of a departure marked with fireworks, a marching band and a fly over by the Canadian Air Force.

It might have been that Ron simply left on his own terms, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

When I decided to write this story I reached out to Ron and asked him to share his thoughts regarding his experiences in Law Enforcement.

In response, Ron explained he had both positive and negative experiences as a result of his status as the first openly gay Police Officer employed by the WPS.  I wasn’t surprised when he opted to keep the details of his experience, both good and bad private.  After all, Ron is a private person.  He did say he believed the Police Service did the best they could considering the social revolution was in its infancy during the time he worked for the WPS.

To me, Ron Zaharia was a pioneer.  A role model for openly gay and lesbian Police Officers and even more so for those who are contemplating coming out.

The time has come for Police Officers to lead the community when it comes to acceptance and support for the rights of our Gay and Lesbian Police Officers and citizens.

It’s time for the “thin blue line” to add a few more colours.

After all, “Gay rights are human rights.” (Hillary Clinton)

FACTOIDS:

A 2009 survey conducted by the Canadian Community Health Survey found that 1.1% of Canadians aged 18-59 reported they considered themselves to be gay or lesbian.

The study reported that 0.9% of Canadians in the same age group considered themselves to be bi-sexual.

In 2009, the Canadian population was estimated at 33,894,000.

That number translates to over 372,834 gay & lesbian Canadian Citizens who are deserving of equal human rights.

RELATED LINKS:

THE BADGE OF PRIDE

http://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/passionateeyeshowcase/2010/badgeofpride/

6 Comments

  1. My own personal opinion is that I’m looking forward to the day when these lifestyle choices are no longer labelled as either/or (hetersexual/homosexual).

    Having said that I must speak up for the rights of religious persons who are being falsely labelled and persecutted as homophobic. They are not afraid of gay persons, they are afraid of persecution in the next life (judgement day). It’s well documented in the Bible, to associate with gay lifestyle is forbidden. For religious persons to change their position on gay lifestyle would be like saying to them, there is no God (which has been aggressively levelled as an argument by the LGTB community against those of religious backgrounds). Politicians have put laws in place to deal with this religious conumdrum, so that it removes choice from a persons religious conscience. TOLERANCE WORKS BOTH WAYS. Both sides are entitled to their lifestyle of choice. My hope is that both sides stop trying to change each other and move on with their own lives. Only then will each side find peace.

    James it looks to me that you’re more upset about Rons life than Ron is. Ron had an amazing career with good friends to support him (according to your article). To me he sounds like an amazing human being, and if I’d had the opportunity to know him personally I would’ve focused on his other attributes (honesty, integrity, loyalty). Ron reports that he’s had good and bad experiences throughout the course of his life. Doesn’t that tell you right there that he’s just like everyone else (we all have good/bad experiences)? I think it’s sweet you care so much, but I’m willing to bet Ron rocked his life then, and still does now.

    On a more personal note (for all you single guys out there), not all women are into pretty boys.

  2. Reluctant leaders are the best kind. They are not inclined to shameless self-promotion. They share, and we are all stronger for it.

  3. Thanks for your comments Gaby…..appreciate it!

  4. Great article, Ron was in my recruit class, in 1981. And he was my favorite male in the class, not only was he a true gentlemen, I didn’t feel threatened by him as I did with some of the other guys, he made me feel I was an equal and I appreciated that.

  5. A man way ahead of his time…

    Thanks for commenting…

  6. Thanks for this. Ron sounds like quite a guy, a real role model.

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