LGBT police, fire and military organization announces award recipients
This week Gay Officers Action League of New England (GOAL New England), the region’s longstanding organization for LGBT public safety personnel, announced the honorees of its 22nd Annual Award Dinner Banquet. The banquet, to be held on Saturday, October 5 at Club Café, will be a major fundraiser that caps an important year for GOAL, which recently attained 501(c)(3) status.
Among the recipients is Javier Pagan, the Boston Police Department’s LGBT liaison whose actions as a first responder during the Boston Marathon bombings were captured in a now-famous photograph featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The image not only brought attention to Pagan, but to the greater issue of positive media representations of LGBT law enforcement. Pagan will share the Founder Award with his husband, retired NYPD officer Pedro Velazquez, who was a first responder in the attacks of 9/11.
“We award it to a member that has served honorably on behalf of the LGBT community,” explains GOAL New England president Anthony Imperioso of the Founders Award, which was introduced just last year. “Javier and Pagan are married officers who both happened to have served in the thick of things during tragedy.”
Also sharing in the Founders Award is Richard Coleman from the Department of Homeland Security, who was injured at the Marathon finish line.
Other GOAL honorees from the public safety sphere will include retired Boston EMS Dave McClelland, Marco Perez of the Connecticut State Department of Corrections, Cambridge police superintendent Christopher Burke, Boston police commissioner Ed Davis, and Middlesex County sheriff Peter Koutoujian. But the organization also reserves awards for those that support the community in other ways. So this year GOAL will also honor Club Café owner Frank Ribaudo for his philanthropic contributions, and Boston Pride president Linda DeMarco for her community service.
In fact, this year’s Boston Pride was among the most memorable for GOAL New England, says Imperioso. The organization had its largest yet presence in the parade, over 70 members, and was joined by members from New York City and Quebec chapters who wanted to show their support for Boston after April’s tragedy. It was a poignant gesture, as GOAL New England actually got its start in 1991 when its founder, Northampton sergeant Preston Horton, was inspired to start a regional league for gay police officers after driving to attend meetings with GOAL New York. Since then the organization has grown exponentially says Imperioso; it now boasts 250 members representing all six New England states.
It has also adapted to incorporate industries beyond law enforcement. Firefighters and EMS personnel have long been invited to join, and GOAL made the decision to accept military personnel immediately following the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. However Imperioso notes that confidentiality is respected within GOAL, as those working within the public safety sphere may face unique obstacles to coming out as LGBT. The organization encourages them to do so on their own timeline, and provides peer support for members facing myriad issues: from coming out anxiety to workplace discrimination.
That said, says Imperioso, it’s clear that the world is changing. He acknowledges that there is still much progress to make, particularly with regard to transgender rights, but he says he has not received any recent member complaints about discrimination on the job. In fact, he recalls one recent instance that underscores the rapidly evolving climate of acceptance here in New England.
GOAL provides intensive diversity training to police and fire departments across New England, and during a recent six-session training with the Cambridge Fire Department one firefighter seized the opportunity to come out to his colleagues.
“I already knew him and was friends with him, but it wasn’t my place to disclose anything,” recalls Imperioso. “Then we showed a slideshow and video as part of our presentation. Afterwards some people had questions and he raised his hand. It was just sort of, ‘By the way, I’m gay.’”
“That was it,” says Imperioso. “No one really reacted. It was just, ‘oh, okay.’”
If only there were awards for that form of first response.
For more information on GOAL New England, including summer fundraisers in Ogunquit and Provincetown, visit NewEnglandGoal.org.