A Dallas police sergeant has been transferred to the jail after he allegedly made inappropriate comments to two lesbian patrol officers concerning Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day last week.
Sgt. Mark Johnson, a 12-year-veteran, has been assigned to the jail pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation, according to DPD Assistant Chief Michael Genovesi.
The two lesbian officers complained after Johnson placed a Chick-fil-A bag in front of them on Wednesday, Aug. 1, and said something about having eaten at the restaurant, Genovesi said.
Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, organized by anti-gay former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, was designed to show support for Chick-fil-A’s opposition to same-sex marriage. And the lesbian officers said they felt Johnson, their supervisor, was trying to send them a message.
Later during a meeting, Johnson read an announcement sent out by Genovesi concerning how officers were to handle a gay kiss-in planned at Chick-fil-A restaurants last Friday. The kiss-in was organized by members of the LGBT community in response to Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. As Johnson read the announcement, he was looking at the lesbian officers. Feeling intimidated, they left the meeting early.
“I would reiterate that we do take any type of discrimination or harassment issue seriously,” Genovesi told Instant Tea. “I’m optimistic that the investigation will ferret out what happened on this, and we’ll take action if action is called for.”
Genovesi said he spoke with both the lesbian officers and Sgt. Johnson after being notified about the incident by a lieutenant from the Southeast Patrol Division, where the incident took place.
“There’s some overlay where they seem to be in some agreement, but their stories also differ as far as who said what and when,” Genovesi told Instant Tea. “In the interim, the supervisor was moved so that we don’t’ have a continuation, or the potential of a continuation.”
Genovesi noted that just having a Chick-fil-A bag or having eaten at the restaurant on Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day wouldn’t be a violation of department policy. But he declined to elaborate on what allegedly transpired, adding that his interview with the two lesbian officers was brief.
“It was a discussion regarding the Chick-fil-A situation, but as far as who said what and when, I’m not going to go into that because there are differences,” Genovesi said. “I didn’t get too down into the weeds knowing that we are already going to send this to internal affairs. It was good enough for me that they were offended.”
Genovesi said he doesn’t believe anyone else overheard the conversation between Johnson and the two officers. He said it’s unclear how long the internal affairs investigation will take, and he declined to comment on possible discipline. Genovesi said while he’s dealt with male-on-female sexual harassment cases, he doesn’t recall another one involving harassment based on sexual orientation.
“Obviously we take it pretty seriously,” he said. “We provide training for it. It’s not something we tolerate. … I’m not going to speculate on the potential discipline until I know what we do or don’t prove.”
DPD’s LGBT liaison officer, Sr. Cpl. Laura Martin, told Instant Tea she had not been aware of the incident but is confident the department will deal with it properly.
“I can tell you that comments and inquiries regarding someone’s sexual orientation is considered sexual harassment in Dallas and it’s not tolerated ever, on any level, and if he was transferred immediately, that’s a message that we’re not going to tolerate this, and I’m sure an investigation is going on about whatever happened in that detail room,” Martin said.
“That’s not the way we train people,” she added. “It sounds like someone felt like they were being harassed, and we’re not going to have that. We definitely act swiftly on anything like that.”
The city, which has prohibited discrimination against gay and lesbian employees since 1995, also has an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity citywide — an ordinance DPD is charged with helping to enforce. DPD has conducted LGBT diversity training for new recruits for two decades, Martin said.
“The training is designed to hopefully make people more tolerant, and hopefully more accepting,” Martin said, adding that as a 12-year veteran Johnson would have undergone the training. “If someone has the belief, based on whatever, that your sexual orientation is wrong, you can’t change that through training. You can’t change years of religious training — or whatever you base your hate upon — in a four-hour class.”
Martin said while she is one of the few DPD officers who is out publicly in the media, it’s not uncommon for younger officers to be open about their sexual orientation.
“They’re not ashamed of who they are,” she said. “It’s not unusual to go into an evening shift or a deep night shift, where officers are younger and they’re open and they’re out at work.”
Martin added she thinks the fact that the officers reported the incident shows they trust the department to address it.
“That to me shows that you feel like you work in a place that is tolerant,” she said. “I think that says something about the progress that we’ve made. There was a time 30 years ago that you wouldn’t stand up and say a thing if that had happened.”