When Burnaby RCMP Sgt. Lorena Rostie was going through the screening process to become a Mountie 17 years ago, a psychologist told her she might want to keep her sexual orientation to herself moving forward.
“She told me, ‘It’s still not that accepting in the RCMP. You might not want to be out.’”
Rostie didn’t take that advice, however, and she hasn’t regretted it.
“I felt comfortable with my troop mates that it would be fine, and it totally was. No one treated me different, at least not to my face,” she said. “To this day – and I know other people’s experiences might be different than mine – but to this day I’ve never faced any issues.”
But some of the 30 aspiring Mounties she trained with didn’t want to take that risk.
Instead of being upfront to the troop about being gay and lesbian, they came to her for heart-to-heart chats about boyfriends or girlfriends and challenges they were having but couldn’t talk to anyone else about.
It’s the same kind of peer support Rostie hopes all LGBTQ law enforcement officers will get through a new B.C. non-profit society she has helped to start called Out On Patrol.
Launched this week, the society is focused on peer support, community engagement, charitable work and education.
Its membership is made up of both sworn peace officers and civilians in B.C. who work for or are retired from a law enforcement agency.
For Rostie, who sits on the society’s board of directors, the idea for such an organization has been percolating for 15 years, ever since she visited a police station in London, England as a new cop and saw posters for a LGBTQ police organization there.
The idea began to crystallize last June after a conference put on by Serving With Pride, an Ontario police organization.
After the conference, Rostie connected with others at the Vancouver Police Department and Transit Police who had all had similar ideas.
“Finally, we’re all coming together,” Rostie said.
The new society’s goals include encouraging queer youth interested in law enforcement that being a cop is a “safe and plausible” career option for them – now more than ever, according to Rostie.
For practical support, Out On Patrol hopes to raise money for scholarships.
The society also hopes to build bridges between law enforcement agencies and the Vancouver Pride Society, which banned police officers in uniform from participating in the annual parade in 2017 because of concerns from Black Lives Matter Vancouver and other marginalized community members who told the society they were uncomfortable seeing uniformed officers or police vehicles at the event because of historic police oppression.
Rostie believes Out On Patrol will be a good vehicle for furthering that discussion.
“I think it’s better to have that bridge-building come from someone who’s part of the community and understands the issues and has potentially even been subject to some of that same discrimination in their past,” she said.
Despite significant changes she’s seen over the years, Rostie said peer support will also continue to be an important aspect of the fledgling organization’s work.
“In this day and age, it’s becoming a lot easier for people in policing to be out, but traditionally, like when I started, there weren’t very many members who were out,” she said. ‘When I joined up, I don’t think there were any guys in my detachment that were out. Now there’s quite a few. I think it helps for other members to see that they’re not alone and give them some peer support and someone to talk to who sort of comes from the same world.”
For more information about Out On Patrol, visit outonpatrol.ca.