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Being in the news biz, The Spike makes it a point to keep up with the countless newspapers, magazines, tabloids and various other rags that abound in a city the size of Phoenix.
But The Spike had never seen or even heard of a slick local entertainment guide called IONAZ, a gay publication loaded with graphic ads that would make even a New Times sales rep blush.
A visit to a number of gay and lesbian hot spots produced not a single copy. But The Spike finally found one -- in the possession of Phoenix police Sergeant Randy Force.
It seems the November 2001 issue of IONAZ landed on Force's desk after certain Phoenix police officers worked themselves up quite a case of outrage when they discovered two of their brother officers had appeared -- in uniform -- on the cover of the gay mag.
Two gay officers, Detective Tom Van Dorn and Officer Alonzo Anderson, in keeping with department policy, sought and received permission from the administration to appear in IONAZ, answering questions about what it's like to be gay and a cop in Phoenix. The article, titled "Out With the Phoenix Police," was illustrated on the cover with a sharp, full-color photo of the pair leaning against a Phoenix police vehicle.
Yowee. The buzz in the agency has been so loud you'd think Ruben Ortega, well known for his dislike of gays (not to mention other factions of society), was still the chief of police.
This time, the outcry has come from, of all places, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, a police union that is supposed to be on the side of all cops, gay and straight. (Maybe that's part of what was behind a recent effort by disgruntled cops to dump PLEA.)
Of course, it's management that's taking the shots. The union newsletter, in columns written by Officer Ken Crane, a union official, is careful to steer clear of blatant gay-bashing.
But it's pretty obvious that Crane doesn't really think much of gay cops. He calls the article, a question-and-answer piece that actually raises some thoughtful points about being gay and in police work, "nothing more than a recruitment pitch to the gay community."
"The management of our Department gives a lot of lip service when it comes to speaking about pride and values," Crane writes. "I'm not trying to say that a gay or lesbian person can't be proud of who they are. However, when you put on a police uniform and stand in front of a marked police car to appear in a publication or give an interview, you become a spokesperson for the whole organization, whether you want to or not."
Crane purports that his biggest complaint is with the ads in the magazine. The inside cover, for instance, promos a gift store with a photo of a muscular gent, bending over, shot from behind -- and from his naked behind down. You can't miss the handcuffs around his wrists, which are thrust between the black leather bondage cuffs on his ankles. A touch of color comes from the red spike heels he's wearing. Numerous ads throughout the 52-page issue play to the gay male customer through shots of young, buff guys, the front of their jeans tantalizingly unzipped.
Hey, it's not The Spike's scene either. But IONAZ does appear to be a legit publication that, at least in part, attempts to deal with issues of concern to the gay community. And the ads, while suggestive, are certainly not pornographic.
In his January article and in a longer follow-up last month, Officer Crane demands to know who approved the interview and sanctioned the use of uniforms and police property. And he worries what precedent has been set -- will we see police interviews in magazines that cater to sadists, masochists and bondage freaks? How about, he asks, in the National Rifle Association's magazine to talk about Second Amendment issues? Or the Baptist Monthly to discuss pro-life issues? Or in some other forum to endorse a particular political agenda?
Good questions from Officer Crane. And here's the answer. The First Amendment protects the right to appear in any publication or forum, no matter how distasteful to some. The Phoenix Police Department's policy rightly extends this consitutional principle to its employees, even though courts have upheld an employer's right to dictate what someone does in his or her off time if it reflects on the employer. (The Spike does question the ethics of campaigning in uniform, however, for any political candidate or a political issue, because it openly smacks of a threat.)
Crane contends a police officer should not be allowed to use the uniform, city facilities or city equipment for the purpose of advocating a political agenda (The Spike agrees), religious belief (what about all those Christian cop groups?) or sexual orientation (ditto policewomen's organizations).
Randy Force can fill in a couple other blanks. Chief Harold Hurtt did give approval to the officers' request to be in the magazine; the request actually went up the chain -- lieutenant to assistant chief to chief -- and was given the go-ahead at every level.
Force says most of the grumbling in the department has to do with the proximity of the interview to the sleazo ads in the magazine. "The questions and answers posed were perfectly professional," he says. "I haven't heard many people complain about the Q and A of the article, just the context of the magazine."
The Phoenix Police Department doesn't screen out gay officers, Force says, and "doesn't hold it against them if they are homosexual."
Force says criminal sexual activity is a different matter, but IONAZ is clearly about a lifestyle choice, not illegal behavior. "Homosexuality in our ranks merely reflects the homosexuality that's in the community as a whole," he says. "We try to have equal representation of the community. We think that's the right thing to do."
"If there's any silver lining to this whole cloud," Force notes, "it's that an organization of 2,800 people can still tolerate divergent viewpoints. The administration can OK this because they believe it's the right thing to do while other people can respectfully disagree with that and publish their beliefs."
The Spike thinks the silver lining in all this is Harold Hurtt and the progressive thinking of his command officers, who are running an organization that is often viewed as considerably less tolerant than Force describes.
As Force puts it: "The long and short of it is that it may have been simply as rebellious 50 years ago to have a photo of an African-American officer on the cover of a magazine. Some will say this is another minority group of sorts."
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