Chicago Police Officer Jose Rios was not the department's first LGBT liaison. However, he does seem to have been born for the job he's loved for the past decade. "I've always known I was gay," he said. "I didn't know what the word was, we didn't have a word for it, but I always knew I was different. For me it's always been who I am." And, he grew up across from Wrigley Field, in the heart of Boystown.
Rios has served as the vice president of LGPA/Goal-Chicago ( The Lesbian and Gay Police Association /Gay Officers Action League of Chicago ) since its reorganization in 2005 and is on the organizing committee for the 14th Annual International LGBT Conference for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Professionals taking place in Chicago June 22-27. He's doing outreach for the conference: connecting the conference with police department, the citizens' LGBT subcommittee and businesses, obtaining sponsorships for social events and working sessions and selling ads in the program booklet.
Following high school graduation from Quigley Seminary North, Rios started college and then entered Niles Seminary of Loyola University with the intention of becoming a priest. After about 18 months he had second thoughts. "I started having a crisis of faith. Well, I have a very strong faith, but I don't always believe in the institution," he explained.
He decided to "work for a while" and joined American Airlines as flight attendant. "I worked there from the age of 22 until 30," he said. "The traveling was a lot of fun but my brother was a policeman and I wanted to be like him. He's always been my role model." Rios entered the police academy in March 1998.
After his six months training, he was assigned to the Boystown 23rd district, working regular squad patrol on the midnight shift for three years. In 2001 he was reassigned to afternoons and his commander, Richard Guerrero, offered him the position of LGBT liaison. "Back then it was just the 'L' and 'G'there was no BT yet," Rios laughed.
The role of gay liaison in the 23rd District had been established by Commander Joseph DeLopez "sometime in the latter 1990s, around 13 or 14 years ago, it was before I came on the force," said Rios. "It was a way for him to better communicate with the large gay population that the district served."
Rios' position reports through the Community Policing Office ( CPO ) , a division that's established in each of the city's 25 police districts. "The officers who work in the CPO do thing from working with seniors, domestic violence, court advocacy, businesses, youth and here we have the LGBT liaison."
In 2006 Rios went back to school and in 2008 earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice from Calumet College in St. Joseph, Ind. In addition to enhancing his job skills, the degree will allow him to sit for promotional exams for the rank of lieutenant.
Rios is the only official LGBT liaison in the city and though he's assigned to the 23rd, he gets calls for help from LGBT people from all over the Chicago. "A lot of my job is not only doing police work it's doing community outreach," said Rios, who recently assisted a Latino man whose family had gotten violent when he came out to them. "I told him who to contact, what kind of agencies have what kind of programs that would be beneficial for him. Recently I worked with the Youth Pride Center ( YPC ) in Hyde Park. I spoke at a scholarship breakfast to let the kids know I'm here for themif they have problems they can contact me. I also speak to college classes."
Each semester, Rios visits with Victoria Shannon's Gay and Lesbian Studies Part I class at Columbia College to discuss his job and CPD's efforts to train officers to better work with the community.
"My students adore him. He's personable, reassuring and he always gives each one of them his business card," said Shannon. "Many of my students have had bad experiences with Chicago police officers, but after they meet Jose, they usually say, 'Well, there's one good Cop in Chicago at least.' Hearing him speak, they understand his side of the job and they learn how important it is that Jose has the job he has. He always encourages my students to become Chicago police officers."
"I'm the gay officer friendly," laughed Rios. "And the department has been very supportive. My commanders have been fantastic. If I need to go to another district, they have no problem. They say, 'go, do what you need to do. You're a Chicago Police Officer and you're the liaison to the LGBT community. You're assigned here, but your community is everywhere.' My commanders, all my supervisors, from my sergeants to the lieutenants that I've had in community policing, have all been great. I've been lucky."
While Rios serves as a resource for citizens who may be experiencing domestic violence, harassment or discrimination due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender presentation and he sometimes serves as a court advocate for LGBT individuals, his position does not get involved in criminal investigations. "The Chicago Police Department has a great civil rights section, headed up by Sgt. Allison Johnson, she's fantastic. They are the ones that do the hate crimes investigations." Each district also has a court advocacy program.
Rios might be the only official LGBT liaison in the city, but he credits other LGBT officers with working on behalf of the community. He has special praise for the efforts of CPO Jamie Richardson, who not only works the midnight shift in the Andersonville neighborhood 20th district, but is the president of LGPA/GOAL-Chicago and the executive conference coordinator for the June confab. "She's more help than anybody could imagine. She handles a lot of stuff; both citizens and officers contact her for assistance. Jamie has to be working at least 100 hours a week between her shift and the conference. She has been the most outstanding president [ of LGPA/GOAL ] that you can imagine."
Does Rios hope for a time when there will be an LGBT liaison in each of the city's 25 police districts? "I would love that," he said, "but is it realistic? We don't have a liaison for every [ ethnic or cultural ] community. We don't have a Latin liaison, for example. When the LGBT position was established here in Boystown, it was because a majority of our community was living here, or coming to socialize, spending a big majority of their lives here. It was a way of bridging the gap between what the community thought police service should be and what it was.
"In this district I have the support of the community. You might not get that if you're in an area where it is more difficult to be out as an LGBT person," said Rios. "It's not as easy to be out on the West Side or the South Side. Here, it's never been a problem. So the fact that I am out and working in the community is considered a positive and it's really supported. The support from the police department would be there but you also have to work with the communitythat is critical to making the job productive and successful."
"When I came on the job at 30 I was already established as a secure gay man," said Rios. "I didn't tell people I was gay unless they asked, but I've never hidden it; I don't think I've ever been 'in' to 'come out'."
Eight years ago when Rios met his life partner, David, he was also well established as Chicago's gay officer friendly. At the difficult end of long term relationship, he had no intention of getting involved again but friendship grew into love and commitment. They took it slow, moving in together after dating for five years.
"He's my perfect person," Rios said of the family law attorney and American Sign Language interpreter. The couple, who live together in the Grand/Central neighborhood, are planning to marry. "We haven't picked a place yet. I'd like to do it in the United States, because this is home for both of us, even though we're not recognized yet," said Rios. "We do a lot of traveling together and David said we can get married anywhere in the world that recognizes it, but I want to get married someplace where my friends and family can be involved."
He appreciates the loving acceptance of his Puerto Rican Catholic family: mom, dad, his brother and two sisters. David's parents - who raised him, three older sisters and four younger brothers - struggled for some time over their son's sexual orientation. They have definitely come around however. Rios, David and David's folks are vacationing together this springa cruise to Scandinavian and Russia. It's not the first time the couple have gone with parents on a family trip.
"If somebody told me when I was growing up that there would be states where I could get married to my partner I never would have believed them," said Rios. "I tell the college students that they are the future. When I talk to the kids on the streets here or at YPC or Center on Halsted or Howard Brown, I tell them that they're our future. The opportunities they have, I never would have imagined."
LGPA/GOAL-Chicago will host 14th Annual International LGBT Conference for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Professionals June 22-27. During the conference they will bestow the "Bridge to Unity" award on actress Sharon Gless, star of Hannah Free. For more information see www.goalchicago.info/2010.