Charles Strickland Jr. said numerous people were qualified to step into the recently created Durham Police Department LGBTQ liaison position, but his work in the community, history of pushing boundaries and a commitment to community policing pushed him to the top spot.
“I think the LGBTQ community has distinctive and unique needs that require somebody who identifies with that community to be able to meet those needs,” said Strickland, 35, who grew up in Raleigh and graduated from Broughton High School.
Strickland will serve as a resource for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, and will be involved in initiatives, such as developing a police policy for dealing with people who identify as transgender. He also hopes to encourage members of the LGBTQ community to be more comfortable when reporting crimes to police.
A Durham officer since 2011, Strickland talked about his new role and life as a gay officer. Here is the edited conversation.
Q: When did you come out?
Strickland: I have been out since I was 13. I always knew that I was a gay male. That is how I identified myself. When I was younger, I didn’t exactly have a name to put on it. But reading stories and different books, there was one particular book of coming out stories that I read that really resonated with me. When I turned 13, I knew that’s who I was, that’s how I identified myself, and that’s how I told my parents.
Once I did come out, family wise, it was a non issue. I got lucky family wise. I am extremely grateful for my family.
Q: How did you end up becoming a police officer?
Strickland: I was employed as a detention officer with the sheriff’s department for five-and-a-half years, and I heard the police department was hiring. And I thought “why not, I will give it a shot.” And luckily it worked out for me.
Q: Did you have concerns about applying for the detention officer job, and were you open about your sexuality?
Strickland: I was partnered at the time, and I did discuss that with my partner. We both agreed at the time that I was already out in my life, and I had never had a position or a job that I was closeted in, and that this wouldn’t be any different.
I was nervous and worried that if people found out that I was gay, they might judge me more harshly, I might be discriminated against. But I decided I would still apply, and I would see. I figured, even if I struggled, it might make it easier for somebody to come behind me. Occasionally, you would get somebody who didn’t believe in a gay lifestyle, but those are few and far between.
Q: Tell me about your experience as a gay police officer?
Strickland: In general, when you put on a uniform, you are an officer who will lay down their life like anybody else.
I think when people see that you are willing to do the same stuff that you are willing to do with absolutely no difference, I think that any preconceived notions kind of go away. I think that if you have a broad generalization of people, once you get to know one specific person and see they don’t fit that stereotype you see that kind of goes away.
Once I did come out, family wise, it was a non issue. I got lucky family wise.
Officer Charles Strickland
Q: Have you ever been a victim of a crime?
Strickland: I haven’t been a victim of a crime, but I definitely have been a victim of harassment. I have been verbally assaulted by people because of my sexuality. It hasn’t been often, but there have been times if you are holding your partner’s hand, you have to think do I let go of their hand, or do I keep holding their hand. And if I keep holding their hand, be ready for either a physical or verbal confrontation with somebody.
Q: Your contact information was included in the press release announcing your appointment, who should contact you?
Strickland: The contact is for anybody who feels like they have a need of me, or if there is somebody I should be in contact with because I am definitely looking for contacts in the community. If I come across somebody who is in need, I can say “well I have these resources, or I know these people they can help you.”
Or anyone that is not comfortable calling 911, definitely call me so I can help you as well or put you in touch with people who can help.
Q: What are some key steps that will unfold in the next six months?
Strickland: I’d love to start up some type of mobile STD testing, training for officers in LGBTQ matters and going over our transgender policy. I have talked with Helena Cragg of the LGBTQ Center of Durham about starting some type of monthly meeting on different topics. One month it could be on safety. One month it could be on awareness, and getting people calling the police.
You can contact Officer Charles Strickland at 919-560-4438 extension 29477 or by email at Charles.Strickland@durhamnc.gov.