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What I Learned at the Police Academy

In the early 1980s, after the Methodist Church kicked me out for being gay, I was, for a short time, the executive director of the Atlanta Gay Center (which no longer exists). That was during a time when the city of Atlanta was emerging from a court-ordered freeze on police hiring. State Representative, and early civil rights pioneer, Hosea Williams had led the charge against the racially biased hiring of police in Atlanta. Eventually, the city agreed to change their procedures and thus was allowed to begin hiring again.

At the same time, Mayor Andrew Young responded to complaints of abuse from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. He appointed me to the Police Community Advisory Board and required two hours of sensitivity training for every cadet attending the police academy. The convergence of these circumstances meant there were hundreds of officers being trained, and it felt like I was at the academy conducting sensitivity training every other day.

I was very young (25?), and this was an intimidating task. I asked my friend and colleague Rev. Jimmy Brock, who was then the senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in Atlanta, to go with me. Jimmy was my father’s age and a solid fatherly figure, so he calmed my nerves as we drove south to the academy.

That first session went just fine, with the young recruits wanting to learn about a facet of the community with whom they would be working. Then, however, one person noted that we both were gay and clergy and challenged how that could be. We tried to answer calmly and scripturally, but that was when the entire experience went off the rails. The trainees became agitated and abusive, and their supervisors stood in the back of the room and smirked.

On the drive home, I had to soothe Jimmy’s nerves. In a week or so, we had to go back, though neither of us wanted to. They weren’t paying us, and we certainly didn’t need yet another source of abuse in our lives. We decided that we needed to take a different tack, so Jimmy told them that we could talk about ANYTHING but religion. I then told them that we had been asked by the mayor to do this, that I had his home number, and I would be happy to report anyone we deemed unfit to serve the city.

That bit of bluster in this paramilitary setting served us well, and we never had any difficulty with subsequent classes. There are several lessons I learned that served me well in my ministry. The most enduring one has been that, in many settings, the ability to fake confidence is almost as good as actually having it.

Blessings,

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Rev. Michael Piazza

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