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Gay officer to speak out for job rights bill

US measure would forbid discrimination

MICHAEL CARNEY MICHAEL CARNEY

Springfield Patrolman Michael Carney decided to hide his homosexuality immediately after he graduated from the police academy.

At a graduation party, he saw a fellow officer come out of the men's room with a bloody nose. A police supervisor had beaten him up when he learned the officer had brought a male friend to the party, Carney recalled.

For years, Carney never spoke about his attraction to men. To deflect suspicion, he would make homophobic remarks in front of fellow officers.

But today, 25 years after he became a police officer, he will speak in the most public way about his sexual identity. He will ask Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill US Representative Barney Frank, a Democrat, introduced in April that would make it illegal to fire gays and lesbians because of their sexual orientation.

"My objective is to support those who are closeted as well as out," said Carney, who will testify in full uniform. "I feel when I speak I speak for those who can't speak for themselves."

Springfield Police Commissioner Edward Flynn said the department supports Carney.

"This is an important social issue and it's important that a credible police officer come out and speak about it," he said.

Carney, 47, will testify before the Education and Labor Committee about the bill, which also would make it illegal to refuse to hire someone based on their sexual orientation. Some critics of the bill have expressed reservations that it does not clearly state the extent to which religious organizations are exempt.

Frank said he asked Carney to speak because he is a beneficiary of Massachusetts' antidiscrimination law - the state is one of 17 that prohibits discrimination against gays and lesbians - and because as a law enforcement figure, Carney helps fight the stereotype of gay men as weak or effeminate.

"He's a thoughtful, articulate guy, and he's very honest about his story," Frank said.

Carney said he knew he was gay when he was about 12. The son of Irish-Catholic immigrants, he was afraid to tell his family.

As a young man, he dated men on the sly. He was more afraid that his fellow officers would find out he was gay than he was of the dangers he faced on duty.

"Who's going to find out?" he said. "That became the focus of my career."

The pressure to stay quiet overwhelmed him. Carney began to drink heavily, and in 1989, he was so depressed, he resigned from the Police Department. He sought counseling to help him face his sexual orientation and deal with his alcoholism. He said he never drank again.

Carney told his parents, and in 1991, he helped found Gay Officers Action League of New England, a support group for gay law enforcement officers. In 1992, he tried to get his job back, and during his interview, he acknowledged he was gay. He was denied reinstatement and filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. In 1994, the agency ruled that there was probable cause the department had discriminated.

Carney returned to the Police Department that year. Since then, he has joined the department's uniform division, patrolling the city on foot and on bicycle. Two years ago, he helped solve the murder of a man who was killed because he was gay. Veteran officers with gay children have approached him for advice. Others on the 450-member force have talked to him about their sexuality.

Still, Carney said, the fear of coming out to fellow officers remains pervasive. "Sadly enough today, I am the only one that is publicly out," he said.

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.

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