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NYPD BORICUA
Edgar Rodriguez talks about life as a Latino police officer
Interview by David Rodriguez

Sgt. Edgar RodriguezFor 20 years, Edgar Rodriguez served on the New York City police force, working his way up the ranks from a rookie to a sergeant. Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican who has been an outspoken advocate for QVs and minorities, spoke with qvMagazine about his unique experiences as a Latino police officer and about the impact that the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, had on him.

Edgar Rodriguez says that he always wanted to be either a cop or a doctor ever since he was a kid. They were his heroes. In fact, Edgar would often follow their examples. He explains, “My mother told me that when I was younger, if there was a car accident in the corner, I’d want to go out and help. I guess at some basic level I was always drawn towards crisis.”

When Edgar finally grew up, he began his journey into the civil service field. He started by going to college where he took various pre-med courses in chemistry and biology, and did all kinds of interesting internships.

Edgar elaborates, “I was sort of a medical buff. During my internships, I’d like to watch different types of surgeries being performed. It was just fascinating to me.”

But just when Edgar thought he was on his way into the medical profession, he made an unexpected turn. He ran into a friend of his who told him about the police force, and on a whim, he decided to check it out.

Before he knew it, Edgar was being interviewed by a police recruiter. He reflects on that interview: “He was a tough Latino guy and he made it seem like I was never going to be a cop. I mean, he scrutinized even the slightest blemish on whatever I showed him, and he made me feel like I wasn’t worthy.”

Nevertheless, to Edgar’s surprise, he ended up getting hired, and shortly thereafter, entered the police academy.

At just about the same time that he entered the academy, Edgar also began to recognize that he was QV. However, Edgar says he was going through tremendous denial. He attributes this denial to the fact that he grew up in the Castle Hill area of the Bronx, where he says that being QV was just something that wasn’t cool.

Up to that point, Edgar’s only knowledge of QV people came in the form of two transgendered women who used to live in the area. He recalls, “They would walk across Castle Hill Avenue and my friends would yell despicable things at them. They were the only thing I connected to being QV, and I just knew that wasn’t who I was. Plus, I didn’t want to be the butt of that ridicule, either. So, I really struggled with this dark secret.”

Rather than confront his sexual orientation, Edgar decided to channel his energy into his work as a cadet in the police academy. He explains, “I buried myself in my work and I excelled in the police academy as a result of that. I graduated at a very high level in the academy.”

Once out of the academy, Edgar started working in the 44th Precinct in the South Bronx, which was the busiest precinct in the city. But despite the fact that he was very active there as a cop, he found himself revisiting his inner feelings about who he was.

Things started to become clearer for Edgar one morning as he was lifting weights in his basement. He had his radio tuned in to the station KTU when he heard Paco, a famous New York City Latino deejay, announce on the radio, “If you want to hear more about QV life, call the QV switchboard.” And then he gave the number.

Edgars says, “When he said that, I remember dropping my weights, and saying to myself, ‘There’s QV life out there?’ Until then, I really felt that I was alone. But when I heard that, I realized that there was a glimmer of hope. I remember looking at the telephone, and nervously calling that switchboard and talking to some guy on the other side. And at that moment, I told someone, for the first time in my life, my dark secret. And as I talked to him about what I was feeling, he affirmed, ‘Yes, it sounds like you’re QV. But it’s cool.’ And suddenly I felt this tremendous weight lifted off my chest.”

Edgar asked the hotline guy where he could go to meet other QV guys, and was told to check out Uncle Charlie’s, which was one of the most popular New York City QV bars in the early 80s.

After a while, Edgar worked up the courage to check out the bar. He recalls, “I remember driving over there and then walking by the bar maybe ten times, paranoid of going in because I thought the police department might be watching. I finally walked in, and what I saw really shocked me. I saw people just like me! I thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ I’d really expected to see the stereotypes I grew up with about QV people, and there were some stereotypes there, but it wasn’t like anything I ever thought. It was a tremendous relief.”

At the same time, Edgar recognized something else—an epiphany that kind of overwhelmed him. He says, “I recognized that all the times I’d heard family, friends, or co-workers say negative things about QV people, they were talking about me. And I remember standing there in the bar, literally shaking, and thinking to myself, ‘I could never be visible, I could never come out. I’m going to live a double life.’ And that’s just what I did.”

And so for the next eight years, Edgar lived his double life that included going to work and using different pronouns, talking about “her” and “she” and “Michelle” instead of “Michael.”

Edgar’s closet situation wasn’t helped by the environment he was exposed to in the police department. He explains, “Being a police officer, as far as issues around racism, sexism, and homophobia, it was a pretty hostile environment—especially at that time.”

He recalls one instance during his first week in a motor patrol car where he was partnered up with an old timer who was angry that he was working with a rookie.

Edgar remembers, “He wouldn’t talk to me. In fact, he didn’t even bother to look at my badge and see what my name was. So we were in the car, and I started trying to make conversation by asking him, ‘How do you like working here?’ He turned to me and said, ‘I hate this f**cking precinct! It’s full of n**gers and spics!’ So I looked at him, he looked at me, and then he looked at my nameplate and saw that it said ‘Rodriguez.’ He then looked forward and said, ‘Well…uhh…only the bad ones.’ This is one example of some of the ignorance by some of the cops, not all. Most of them weren’t aware of these issues back then. But most of the cops now are real cool.”

In addition to the racism, Edgar also got to see, first-hand, the sexism that existed in the police department. He says, “With sexism, I can’t begin to tell you. The women in the police department back then deserve medals of valor for what they put up with. I can’t even describe the degrading words some of the men used to describe the women.”
With all of these “ism’s” going on, Edgar decided early on that there was no way he could come out as a QV cop. “I would have been finished,” he explains. “It would have destroyed me, and I would not have survived in those days in that precinct.”

This decision to stay in the closet was all but sealed one day when he was in the locker room and one of the few Latino cops who worked at that precinct, walked into the room in a rage. Edgar recalls, “He was in a rage because in that precinct, near Yankee Stadium, there was a QV cruising area. Apparently, he witnessed some QV men cruising there. I don’t know what he saw, but he came back in such a rage that I remember him slamming the locker door closed and saying, ‘Motherf**king faggots! If I ever find out that one of my co-workers is a faggot, I’m going to blow his head off by accident running up the steps behind him on a job.’ When he said that, I thought, ‘I’m not coming out.’”

Even though Edgar decided he couldn’t come out at work, he did begin to find things in other places to help nurture himself as a QV man.

For example, he began volunteering at a clinic called St. Mark’s Clinic, which was run by all QV doctors and volunteers. Because he had a medical background, Edgar began to do STD screening and draw blood for them. However, he never told anyone there that he was a cop. He says, “I told them I was an EMT, and I even used an alias because I didn’t want to give them my real last name.”

Nevertheless, Edgar says volunteering there was a really positive experience because it helped him cope with his initial coming out process.

In addition, Edgar started working at the Institute for the Protection of QV and Lesbian Youth, which is today called the Hetrick Martin Institute. Edgar says working there really impacted his life. He says, “I learned there that the highest rate in suicide is for QV and lesbian kids because they don’t have any role models. That really hit me, and I thought, ‘I’m perpetuating this because I’m too afraid to come out.’ And I guess that was one of main reasons that I finally came out.”

At the police department, little by little, Edgar found it harder and harder to listen to the homophobic slurs. He got to the point where he said to himself, “I can’t hear these negative slurs anymore. I can’t be ashamed of who I am.”

One day, Edgar got into an argument—totally unrelated to his being QV—with a female coworker. He says, “I think she suspected I was bisexual or something, so she started going off on me and saying homophobic stuff like, ‘You know something, I think you’re a f**king faggot! You probably take it up the ass,’ and really horrendous stuff and really loud in the office in front of my co-workers. Then she said, ‘Not only are you a faggot, you’re not even a proud faggot because you’re such a f**king closet case.’”

When she said that, Edgar says it was like she took a harpoon and shoved it right into his chest. He says, “I was speechless. I remember leaving work early that day, and I got into my car to go home, and literally pulled over and just cried and cried. I hadn’t cried in a long time and I tried to understand why I was crying. Then, I recognized that, at some level, she was right: that as long as I was closeted, I wasn’t totally proud of who I was.”

The next day, Edgar went back to work and confronted his co-worker. He recalls, “She was in the office alone with me and I told her that what she said really affected me. I told her I was QV and that I wasn’t going to stand for her talking like that. We spoke for quite a long time, and at the end, she came up to me and kissed me, and very sincerely, said she was sorry.”

However, Edgar’s co-worker had a big mouth, and by the next day she had told everyone in the office. He remembers, “I walked in, and everyone just put their heads down and went to work. You could cut the tension with a knife. And so everyone left the office little by little to go do their work assignments and I was there thinking, ‘Oh boy, this is really uncomfortable.’”

He continues, “The one guy left in the office was this African American cop who I really admired. He came up to me and said, ‘Hey, is it true that you’re QV?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ He was a musician and so he said, ‘Can I ask you something? I work with musicians who are QV, and I don’t get that. Can you give me some perspective on that?’”

Edgar thought it was pretty cool that he asked, so he sat there with him for an hour and a half and gave him an abridged version of his life up to that point. When Edgar was done, the guy shook his hand and gave him a sincere brother-to-brother kind of embrace, saying, “I give you a lot of credit coming in here with a smile on your face every day, considering everything you’ve kept hidden inside of you. It’s really great. Thank you for sharing that with me.”
Edgar says, “When he did that, it was another epiphany. I said, ‘Wow, people are really inherently good, if only given the opportunity to learn.’ And that’s when I kind of embarked in my educating people.”

Shortly after Edgar came out to his precinct, he was coincidentally, promoted to sergeant and transferred to the 6th precinct in Greenwich Village which just happened to be one of the QVest precincts in the city. But nobody there knew he was QV, and the rumor didn’t follow him. He says, “I didn’t go out of my way to come out, but I didn’t go out of my way to hide it either.”

As a matter of fact, by that time Edgar had already started getting involved in the QV Officers Action League (GOAL), a support organization for QV and lesbian police officers in New York. One of his mentors there convinced him to pose for a poster designed to recruit QVs into the police department. About a week or two after Edgar had been on the job at the Greenwich Village precinct, the poster began appearing and cops started seeing it. Needless to say, they were in shock.

Edgar explains, “They were shocked because it was one thing to work in a precinct where there was a large QV community, but it’s another thing when your sergeant is QV.”

In the end, everything worked out for Edgar, and he went on for the next 12 years being a true community leader and activist. He became involved in numerous activities, including a network organization for lesbian and QV business professionals, and an organization called Common Threads which brought QV and straight kids together to educate them about homophobia, racism, and sexism in the public school system. He was also involved in teams that educated criminal justice professionals about new hate crimes laws.

Edgar feels it was his destiny to pursue both the police force and his activism. He explains, “It seems like from the very first day I got into the police department to today, that my growth as a cop, as a QV man, and as an activist, seem to have kind of twisted into each other like the colors in a barber’s pole. It’s given me a unique perspective on a lot of issues and an ability to participate in a way that most people can’t.”

To the readers: Are you a QV police officer now, or are you thinking of becoming a police officer? There are numerous organizations out there to support you. You can visit the QV Officers Action League (GOAL) website at www.goalny.org, which has numerous links to similar organizations across the country. You can also call them at 212-691-4625. If you wish to e-mail Edgar, you can email him at: edgardrodri@aol.com


THERE'S MORE!!!
There's more of Edgar's story in the print edition of qvMagazine, including his reflections on how September 11 affected him, and also his plans for his future. To get the print version, please click here!

 

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