Page 4 of 5
With her eye on those policies, Caster spoke with a gay policewoman who had legally married her same-sex partner in Iowa. Shortly after the officer started on the force, her wife was laid up for weeks following surgery. An officer in an opposite-sex marriage would have been able to use her sick leave to care for her spouse. This gay officer, however, was forced to burn most of her vacation time to help her wife.
"If you're going to say that your domestic partner is important enough that we'll give you time off when they die, your domestic partner is important enough that we'll give them insurance, but your domestic partner is not important enough that if they are sick or bedridden, that we'll let you off work?" she says. "We need uniformity."
Caster advocated for a policy change, and her notes went to the top and earned approval in three weeks. No more lost vacation time for cops like the woman Caster talked to.
Typically, Rose says, an officer's suggestion takes about six months to run the gauntlet to the top. Not for Caster.
"Those suggestions will come directly to me, and I'll send those up to the chief and the executive committee," Haley says. "That's a pretty short process, if you think about it."
In addition to policy changes, Caster's liaison role is geared to make her a resource for her fellow gay officers. She's setting up a mentoring program for recent LGBT graduates of the academy, and she plans monthly meetings for officers who are out and officers who are closeted. ("I'd say I run into 10 to 15 that I run into at bars or whatever," she says of the latter group.)
Rose says having a point person for gay officers will be crucial as the department both attracts more who are gay and works on its reputation internally. She tells the story of a ceremony the department held last year, honoring her for 25 years of service. Her partner's attendance was acknowledged during the ceremony.
"Some young gay person in our department [at the ceremony] made a comment to someone else: 'Wow, that's really cool.' That's a positive," she says. "I don't look at myself as an inspiration because I wasn't out until five years ago. But the fact that I've been promoted since then shows that, yeah, it's no big deal."
Caster has been making an effort to get to more LGBT events. She and a handful of other officers went to the Kansas City Pride Festival this summer. It was the department's first such presence at the festival, with Caster attempting a difficult dual task: improving the KCPD from within while forming a bond with the LGBT community.
"I think we recognize that there is a problem," she says. "We can sit here and say we're going to go recruit from Pride events and all these LGBT events and we're going to just recruit more people who are openly gay. That's not going to change things, because if we're not OK internally, they're going to come on the department and feel excluded in some way."
"I didn't think she had the huevos," Brianna Lopez says of her girlfriend's decision to accept the liaison position. "It seems like she's a whole new person professionally, and that translates into her social life."
Caster lives in her Northland bungalow with Lopez, a graduate student studying to be a family counselor, and Tim. There's a 12-year-old beagle named Bella and a 2-year-old blue pit bull named Romi.
Over coffee, Lopez says the three make their living situation work: "We're cohesive, for the most part."
"It's a strange little family, but I really like it," Caster adds.