Philly police officers come in all shapes and sizes—and sexual orientations, too. Might seem surprising at first given what’s considered a macho culture on the force, but one openly gay cop says don’t believe the stereotypical hype. PW caught up with Officer Lee Marrero at end of his midnight-to-8 a.m. shift in the dilapidated 22nd District just west of Temple. The oldest of six born to a single mother, Marrero, 29, grew up in Hunting Park and graduated from the police academy in 2007.
How long have you wanted to be a cop?
I applied when I was 19 ... I grew up in the Badlands. There was a lot of crime around, a lot of drug usage and stuff like that. In that neighborhood it’s pretty hard to find your way out of there. I really didn’t like what was going on around me, so I thought, what can I do to change it? One thing was to become a police officer.
Were you out in high school?
No, no, no, no. I waited until I was out of high school and out of my mom’s house. I waited until I was out on my own. I figured it was something I had to do. Better to do it when I’m on my own and independent.
Were you out in the academy?
I wasn’t out. I told my superior officer at the academy ... he advised me—just said, make yourself out to be a good person. As long as you’re a good person, it doesn’t matter what you do at home or who you go home to. That’s no one’s business.
Did being gay come up when joining the force? Is there any kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell?”
It’s pretty good in the police department. We do have a directive; the policy is we do not discriminate against sexual orientation. The state doesn’t recognize it but the city does. It was pretty comforting to know when I did apply it did say on the application that we do not discriminate against any sexual orientation.
Did you get trained on LGBT issues at the academy?
From the first day of training. We had a full day when someone from D.C.—there’s currently a gay and lesbian unit in D.C. that [Police Commissioner Charles] Ramsey started. A sergeant from that unit comes to the academy for the day and gives a presentation and trains all the recruits how to deal with LGBT issues or LGBT officers. We were pretty much aware since we were in academy we would be working with other gay officers.
Is there training on interacting with LGBT people in the community?
Yeah, there is, but the community’s down at the 6th District [covers the Gayborhood section of Center City]. They teach us how to interact—whatever someone wants to be identified as, that’s what you identify them as.
In the academy, was there a point where you came out to other cadets?
I’ve been with my boyfriend for five and a half years now. I was with him in academy. I’ve never denied that I was gay, I just said I’m going home to my roommate. I didn’t want to throw it in anyone’s face. If someone was uncomfortable I didn’t want to ignite that. I’ve never denied it to anyone. Everyone who wants to know ... I say yeah, I’m with someone, I’ve been with someone for five and a half years, things are great. But I was gay when I first came to the district. I was gay when I backed you up a year ago. I’m still the same person now, still going to be the same person 10, 15 years from now. The supervisors are all aware of my sexuality. They never give me any problems. I don’t get treated any different. I get in trouble if I do something wrong.
Do You know other gay officers?
There’s a lot of gay officers and gay supervisors. We meet socially sometimes and you see them around in the neighborhood. The other officers, some of them choose to be out, and some of them live closeted lifestyles. Whatever they choose is fine. When I get to work they’re here and ready to rock.
What would you say to other gay or lesbian kids who want to be a cop?
You make a lot of friends on this job. With a push of a button you have hundreds of people that will come back you up if you need help. It doesn’t matter what sexuality you are, we’re all cops and when you come to work we all treat each other as brothers and sisters. It doesn’t matter if you’re a lesbian cop or trangendered cop. There are more important things to worry about—people out there who want to shoot you. No one really cares who you go home to.