The concept of an LGBTQ Police Liaison program can be hard for some folks to swallow. The history of the LGBTQ community and how they’ve interacted with the police force has more bruises than gold stars and it’s easy to dismiss supportive steps as PR moves.
That’s not to say other local LGBTQ Liaison programs lack integrity, but Norfolk’s new program, and the man they have heading it, stands out from the rest because the new liaison is actually gay.
Born in New Brunswick, Canada (yes, he said aboot in our interview a few times), Sergeant Craig Lovelace (pictured above) started off his policing career as part of the military police with our neighbors to the north. He served at a number of bases around Canada before joining the New Brunswick Highway Patrol.
“There was a lot of respect for law enforcement,” Lovelace said of working in the rural Canadian province. “And people might fight to try and get away, but they wouldn’t try and fight to hurt you.”
He left the police force in the late 80′s to return to school and and ended up in Norfolk for a vacation. He was only in the Commonwealth for a bit, but he returned home only to find himself missing the people and the water.
“That time of year, it was so very cold in May up north in Canada, and when I came down here people were already swimming in the bay,” he said. “I really liked the climate change and the people. I thought the area was really nice.”
Evidently it was nice enough to inspire him to transfer to Old Dominion University. Never finished, but instead returned to what he loved – policing.
“I missed helping people in need of law enforcement services and was quickly running out of money,” he said. He went into the Norfolk Police Department as a recruit. He patrolled the streets for four years before going back to the academy as an instructor. After two years there, he returned to the streets for two more years before getting promoted to Corporal, then Sergeant where he ended up in administrative duty.
“We move around quite a bit,” Lovelace said. “The more rounded, the more experiences you get, the better services you can provide.”
All in all, he’s got 20+ years of service as part of the Norfolk Police Department, and his newest assignment, as the PD’s LGBTQ Police Liaison, is one he’s just as passionate about.
The appointment was announced last week, and it’s already led to some harsh words from locals, something Lovelace was prepared for.
“You hear rumblings around already, but nobody seems to want to talk to me about it,” he said pointing out a lot of the criticism has shown up online but not in person.
“People ask ‘why isn’t there a white male liaison.’ Well if you want to talk to a white male officer about something and feel more comfortable about that, just look around – and vice verse when it comes to race. But if you want to talk to a gay officers, you can’t look at a group and say “that one’s the gay officer.’”
That’s the role Lovelace hopes to fulfill – supporting LGBTQ victims and citizens as an officer of the law. “People can come and talk to me, or a gay female officer, I can arrange that,” he said.
Lovelace was also proud to say the appointment shows “Norfolk’s Police Department and the City is diverse and we are accepting of this segment of the community.”
Being a gay person himself also adds to the legitimacy of the the program in his eyes – he’s the only openly gay LGBTQ Liaison officer in the region.
“I don’t think it’s a necessity, but I do think it adds some credibility to some of the people you’re talking to when they’ve had similar life experiences,” he said. “You can relate a bit better. I don’t think its necessary, but I think there’s a lot of positives about it too.”
“I didn’t hide it, but it wasn’t common knowledge,” he said of his early days in the force. He said his friends and close co-workers knew, but for the most part, it was his personal life and he chose not to share it.
“But if I went to a [gay] bar,” he said. “I wouldn’t hide because there was a police car going by or something like that.”
But once word got out, the rumor wheel started spinning and left him with little choice.
“The talk that went around at that time, not official from the department or the city, was the only honorable thing for me to do was quit, and if I wouldn’t quit I’d be fired.”
Luckily, Lovelace said his commanding officer had his back.
“The chief at the time said ‘that absolutely was not gonna happen.’”
After the news was out, he embraced it head on. He remembered walking into the club house for Norfolk’s Fraternal Order of Police with some straight friends. When he entered the room it got really quiet.
“I said ‘if someone’s got a problem with me we can step out back and settle it.’ And they said ‘No, no, we don’t have a problem! Here’s a beer’” he said.
Since then, his higher ups have been very supportive. Lovelace said his history as a good police officer and his honesty with being himself before his fellow cops also played a role.
“I was always confident that, in the long run, that things would work out… My personal life, they didn’t care so much about about,” he said. “All they cared about was if I was gonna be there to back them up on the street.”
Lovelace said he’s not the lone LGBT officer at Norfolk’s PD. In our interview, he counted off more than a handful of other officers he said identify as part of the sexual minority spectrum. He said many of them have come up to him and thanked him for being open about himself since the mid 90′s.
“They tell me it was so much easier for them to come out,” he said. “That respect was already established. They’ve said it’s cause of how open I was. It made it much easier for them.”
While the LGBTQ Liaison program is still pretty new, Lovelace has been hard at work in other ways. He said he’s attended Hampton Roads Pride planning events for years, and he’s reached out to local LGBTQ business owners to see if they need any support. He plans to reach out to other regional PD LGBTQ liaison programs to see what they have done as well.
“No matter what we do, we’re gonna get egg on our face,” Lovelace said at the time. “If we mention it, we’re gonna get ‘well why are you bringing it up’ – all we can say we treat this homicide the same as every other homicide and we’ll put all our resources toward it… We took a few hits because we didn’t identify the victim as transgender. It’s one of those things.”
But Lovelace hopes to avoid those issues in the past, and he has faith in his departments ability to adapt and change with the times.
“When it comes to the issues of diversity… people say they can’t hold a candle to Norfolk,” he said.