We always knew it took guts to be a cop. But the courage RCMP Constable Cheryl Letkeman and 19 of her fellow officers in British Columbia recently showed deserves mention.
Constable Letkeman is the inspirational force behind a new video that the Mounties released this week called It Gets Better. If you haven’t seen it yet, do. And then share it. It’s important for a number of reasons.
It Gets Better is the title of a project started by U.S. writer Dan Savage, in response to the growing number of suicides by teenagers who were bullied because they were either gay or suspected of being so. The idea was to get gay adults to deliver the message that the lives of those being tormented will get better eventually – just as theirs did.
Founded in the fall of 2010, the project took off. Today, videos with these messages of hope have been viewed more than 40 million times. And they have been recorded by some unlikely sources, including several police departments.
It was when Constable Letkeman saw that officers in San Francisco and Austin were adding their support to the project that she asked the question: “Why has the RCMP not done this yet?”
It’s at this point that many might have answered: Because the RCMP is the last organization in the country that would ever throw its support behind an initiative like this. This was the same institution, after all, that has been accused of harassment and bullying by scores of female officers. And some male ones, too.
But Constable Letkeman didn’t worry about that. She was thinking of the at-risk kids she works with in her job in Surrey, ones who are gay and lesbian, ones who get bullied every day of their lives and have few role models to emulate. They were the ones she thought could use the strength that a video testimonial by RCMP officers could provide them.
Knowing she wasn’t the only gay Mountie around, Constable Letkeman put out the word in the Lower Mainland that she was looking for gay/lesbian colleagues interested in joining her efforts to put together an It Gets Better video. Nineteen officers got back to her saying they were in. Constable Letkeman came up with the questions the officers would answer on camera. She and her crew spent three days filming; they’d have to edit three hours of recording down to nine minutes.
It was an intense emotional experience that produced plenty of tears. Suddenly, hardened cops were sharing feelings about what it was like growing up gay, feelings they’d never shared before, certainly with so many. It was a profound experience that affected everyone involved.
It isn’t just anguished and persecuted teens who need this video, although it’s going to help them plenty. The Mounties need it, too. Through it, they have shown they just might be turning into an institution that reflects modern-day realities.
Through it, Constable Letkeman and her fellow gay officers have demonstrated that perhaps our national police force isn’t the closed and closed-minded institution we’ve been reading about. That maybe, just maybe, there’s some new thinking at the top that might help save the force from itself.
For the RCMP, the It Gets Better video is groundbreaking stuff – even if you don’t believe that talking about your sexual orientation is a big deal any more. Inside police forces, it still is.
Chief Superintendent Bill Fordy, the chief Mountie in Surrey, told me how proud he felt of the men and women who put their names and faces to this project. “It’s a story of how they transitioned from a place of darkness, sadness and anger to where they are now positive role models. In the process, they put themselves in a position where they could be vulnerable to criticism. But they went ahead anyway because they felt it was the right thing to do.”
And for that, they deserve our abiding gratitude.