I've spent half a century writing for radio and print (mostly print). I hope to still be tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
People in the LBGTQ community frequently accuse police forces of institutionalized homophobia. Police strenuously deny this is an issue but horrible cases of lackadaisical investigations into mass murders of gays suggest that LBGTQ people may have a point.
An Active Serial Killer in Toronto's Gay Community
The first gay man, Skandaraj Navaratnam, went missing from Toronto's Gay Village, an area of downtown, in September 2010. Three months later, another habitué of the Gay Village, Abdulbasir “Basir” Faizi, also vanished. Then, more gay men disappeared.
As the numbers mounted, police said there was no connection among the cases. In 2012, investigators talked to a suspect, Bruce McArthur, but cleared him of involvement in the disappearances. In June 2016, McArthur again had contact with police following an allegation of choking by one of his lovers. He was interviewed, released, and no incident report was filed.
By 2017, eight men, one woman, and a transgender woman had gone missing, but still Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders was moved to say on December 8, 2017 that “the evidence today tells us there is not a serial killer involved.”
Six weeks later, McArthur was arrested. When confronted by a mountain of evidence, McArthur plead guilty to eight murders and received a life sentence.
Mishandled Toronto Investigation
Police botched their investigation of Bruce McArthur. They had him on their radar in 2012 but failed to carry out a proper investigation; as a result, more men lost their lives.
A subsequent inquiry concluded that Toronto's police had treated the missing gay men as not worthy of serious investigation. Former judge Gloria Epstein was tasked with finding out what went wrong.
“My extensive engagement with community members and organizations confirmed that many people deeply mistrust the Toronto police. This long-standing mistrust may not be directly related to missing person cases but is often rooted in systemic or overt bias or discrimination.”
Epstein found officers often displayed stereotypical views about homosexual lifestyles that clouded their objectivity. A similar failing showed up in London, England.
The Stephen Port Case
In 2014 and 2015, the bodies of four young men were found in the east end of London. It wasn't until the fourth killing that police started a serious investigation. The perpetrator, Stephen Port, was eventually arrested, found guilty of murder, and sentenced to life in prison.
The dead men were known to be homosexuals. According to the BBC: “A solicitor representing the families (of the deceased) said they believed the police's actions were 'driven by homophobia.'”
An inquest into the deaths was held but the police were able to block the jury from delving into issues of prejudice or homophobia. The Guardian reported that “the Metropolitan police 'fought tooth and nail' to keep the hotly disputed issue out of the inquests, despite relatives feeling police had written off their loved ones as 'gay druggies.'”
However, John Paper, the partner of one of the victims told jurors:
“To my mind, the only thing that makes any sense of how disturbingly incompetent this investigation was is prejudice: conscious and unconscious. And, in my opinion, I think if that means the lives and deaths of young gay and bi men are not treated with significance and respect, I think that amounts to institutional homophobia.”
Some families have been compensated financially and the police offered the following statement: “We have previously apologised to the families for the police failings in this matter and understand the impact these have had and the distress caused. We apologise again now.”
Police Homophobia in the United States
One of the most diabolical crime sprees in American history occurred between 1987 and 1991. Jeffrey Dahmer carefully picked his victims from groups he knew police in Milwaukee didn't much care about—Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Indigenous men in the gay community.
The idea that police disregarded the rights of those in the gay community was not new. Shortly after World War II, there was a sharp uptick in arrests and convictions for homosexual activity in the city.
As The Washington Post reports: “Milwaukee law enforcement targeted the city’s growing Black community, building on a long history of policing Black people for their intimate and sexual practices in urban areas throughout the country.”
In the late 1970s, police made frequent and violent raids on gay gathering places. This was the exact opposite of the motto “To Serve and Protect.”
The structured homophobia created an environment in which Dahmer could kill 15 men and boys over a period of four years and go largely undetected. Finally, a potential victim escaped from Dahmer's apartment and returned with police officers.
Dahmer's rampage was over, and in February 1992, he was sentenced to life plus 70 years. However, his life sentence came to an end in November 1994 when the serial killer was murdered by a fellow inmate.
Preaching the Gospel of Hate
Police detective Grayson Fritts gave a sermon at his Knoxville, Tennessee Baptist church in which he called for members of the LGBTQ community to be executed. It is to be hoped that the views he expressed are those of a tiny minority in law enforcement. When his tirade came to light, Officer Fritts resigned from his police job; some sources say he was fired.
The World of Gay Cops
Kevin Maxwell was a gay police officer in Manchester, England. He wrote in The Guardian that “For many straight cops, being gay was seen as unnatural.”
He was subjected to taunts and prejudice, and he took management to an employment tribunal. “The court ruled I had been subjected to discrimination, harassment and victimisation based on my sexuality and race. The police then appealed against the judgment. I lost my job. An appeal judge upheld my complaints.”
Keith Wildhaber had a similar experience. A gay police lieutenant in St. Louis County, Missouri, he filed a discrimination lawsuit against his police department. He alleged “he was passed over for promotion 23 times and was told to 'tone down' his 'gayness.'” Wildhaber won a $10 million settlement but resigned his middle-management post and went back to the patrol cars.
Experiences such as these will likely cause other gay police officers to keep quiet about their sexual orientation.
- According to an article published by researchgate.net: “Gay men disproportionately experience homophobic victimization compared to other sexual minority populations, including queer, bisexual, and lesbian individuals.” Among reported hate crimes—assault, stalking, verbal harassment, robbery, etc.—in 2016, 47 percent were aimed at gay men.
- In June 1969, riots broke out in New York City over police raids on a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn. The six days of violent clashes in Greenwich Village are said to have been the birth of the Gay Liberation Movement.
- “Man Missing Since 2010 Was Romantically Involved With Accused Killer Bruce McArthur, Says Friend.” CBC News, January 23, 2018.
- “ 'Systemic Discrimination' Contributed to Failings in Toronto Police Missing-Person Cases, Report Finds.” Adam Carter, CBC News, April 14, 2021.
- “Stephen Port Murders: Families of Victims Receive Met Payouts.” BBC News, August 30, 2022.
- “Police Homophobia: The Issue Stephen Port Jurors Couldn’t Consider.” Caroline Davies, The Guardian, December 10, 2021.
- “Racism and Homophobia Enabled Jeffrey Dahmer’s Crimes.” Kidiocus King-Carroll, Washington Post, October 11, 2022.
- “As a Gay Officer I Saw how Homophobic the Police Are.” Kevin Maxwell, The Guardian, November 27, 2016.
- “Gay officer who settled suit will resign from diversity unit | AP News. Associated Press, July 31, 2020.
- “Violence Against Gay Men.” Jillian R. Scheer, et al., researchgate.net, November 2020.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Rupert Taylor