At 6 feet tall and 235 pounds, Sgt. Craig Lovelace is an imposing figure.
He’s well known and well liked in the Police Department, where he has served for more than 20 years.
He’s been out as a gay man for most of that time.
“Even back then, the officers that I worked with who knew me… had absolutely no problem with it,” Lovelace said.
Still, for anyone with a problem, Lovelace pointed out, it’s legal for two consenting adults to go to a private place and duke it out.
That option remained on the table, unused, he said.
“Everyone knew where I stood and that I wasn’t going to back away,” he said.
The department recently named Lovelace its liaison officer to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
He will be the department’s go-to person when dealing with LGBT issues inside the department and in the community.
In some ways, he’s been in that role for years, said Officer Daniel Hudson, a department spokesman.
“He’s changed a lot of perspectives on the Police Department with just his boldness and his willingness to talk about his life and his partner,” Hudson said. “It’s why we chose him, because he is so outspoken.”
Lovelace’s husband – the two were married last year shortly after gay marriage became legal in Virginia – is Lt. J. Coghlan. Coghlan declined to be interviewed.
Lovelace joined the department in 1992. In 1994, when rumors swirled that he might be gay, he didn’t deny them.
He said no one suspected that Coghlan was gay, too.
“He’s much more reserved,” Lovelace said.
Before Lovelace was out, a sergeant made comments about gay people in front of him that made him uncomfortable.
Lovelace pulled him aside. “You shouldn’t really say that,” he told the sergeant, “because you never know who you are talking to.”
The sergeant said he’d stop making comments if Lovelace wouldn’t tell him “something he didn’t need to know.”
When Lovelace came out, that same sergeant held a meeting with his officers to support him.
“Basically, he told everyone that I was a good officer and that I backed them up and he expected them to back me up,” Lovelace said. “And if they heard anyone say anything bad about me, they needed to be put in their place.”
Stacie Walls-Beegle, executive director of Access AIDS Care and the LGBT Center of Hampton Roads, said members of the LGBT community will be more inclined to work with police and make reports knowing the department has named a liaison officer.
“Also, it’s a positive role model who is out,” she said.
That’s important for LGBT youths, she said. Some have supportive families. Some do not.
Lovelace said he’s been able to talk to gay crime victims in a way other officers could not. During the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, Lovelace said, he could pull aside a gay military member to discover the culprit behind stolen property or a trashed house – someone from a same-sex
relationship, against whom they were unwilling to press charges.
“They couldn’t report it to anybody because they would jeopardize their career,” he said.
Sometimes, it’s just easier to explain things to someone who understands your way of life, he said.
Since starting on the force, Lovelace said he’s seen attitudes change toward members of the LGBT community.
“The department is not going to stand for us having bias towards any part of the community,” he said.