“If you think something is wrong, it’s no use sitting back and complaining,” says Queensland police officer and LGBTI community leader Mick Gardiner. “Stand up, be counted and do something, even if it’s just small.”
As the most senior bomb technician in the Queensland Police Service (QPS), and with 28 years’ active duty under his belt, Mick has been involved in all manner of high-stakes situations – but, until recently, he has worked behind the scenes. In the past three years, though, he has taken on a very visible role as state co-ordinator of the QPS’s LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) Support Network.
In that short time, Mick says, the QPS has broken down its culture of homophobia and become one of the most socially progressive police services in the world. “Historically, the QPS – and all police services – were never the greatest with engaging with the LGBTI community,” Mick says. “We recognise that. But those days are gone. We have so moved past that now.”
Mick, who is gay, conceived and has played a particularly active role in developing the support network, which, in its short history, has created a range of educational materials about the LGBTI community; encouraged LGBTI officers and allies to participate in events such as the Brisbane Pride March and Wear it Purple Day; and, in an Australian first, raised a rainbow flag at QPS headquarters.
“For Wear It Purple Day, which supports LGBTQI youth, we came up with the idea of purple bootlaces, so every police officer in the state had the opportunity to be out and about dealing with public wearing purple bootlaces,” he says.
At the time the support network was conceived in 2015, senior members of the QPS had realised the force’s engagement with the LGBTI community needed urgent review. “I was contacted out of the blue by Superintendent David Tucker, who worked for Ethical Standards Command, which is in charge of complaints and performance and integrity within the service,” Mick says. “He asked me to a meeting on the back of complaints, both internal and external, about transphobia associated with police.”
Mick believed the only way to affect change was to permanently establish a group that could advocate for LGBTI people. “We were asked to come up with an idea that could help the QPS move forward,” he says. “From that, I seized an opportunity to form the support network.”
In the months that followed, Mick and his support-network colleagues produced the QPS Diverse Gender Guide specifically to address Superintendent Tucker’s initial concerns. “We built a holistic document that speaks to police officers about how to engage with other police officers who might be gender diverse and talks about how we, as police, should appropriately and respectfully engage with the transgender community.”
Today, Mick speaks openly and with evident pride about the role he has played in fostering tolerance within the QPS. But the fifth-generation soldier says that, when he came out as an adult, he felt great anxiety due to the ongoing poor relations between the Queensland police and the LGBTI community. “I was scared about being a gay person in the Queensland police, and I was scared about being a police officer in the LGBTI community,” he says. “You’re caught in the middle.”
Even admitting his sexuality to himself, his family and his friends was a long and torturous process. “I come from a military family, so there were no openly gay people,” he explains. “I grew up in Logan, in a HousingCommission area, and there were no gays in Logan. I joined the army back in the ’80s and there were no gays in the army; and then I joined the police, and there were no gays in the police in the 1980s.”
Mick says he couldn’t articulate his sexuality, even to himself. “I didn’t understand who I was for the longest time,” he says. “As you do, I fell in love, got married to my best friend Theresa, and it wasn’t until later in life that I came to start understanding, through her help, that I was gay.”
Any disquiet Mick might have felt while living as a heterosexual man was amplified enormously when he faced his true sexuality. “It was crushing to me,” he says. “I suffered deep depression and got to a point where I actually honestly believed that death was a better option than being gay. But my wife wasn’t going to have a bar of that. So she took me by the hand and marched me up Sydney’s Oxford Street in my first Mardi Gras parade. She then built a massive support network around me.”
Today, Mick speaks openly with colleagues and with the media about his journey. In 2016, he was named as a finalist in the QBank Everyday Heroes Awards. And he says he remains committed to education and outreach.
“There’s always going to be the haters, and we expect that,” he says. “That’s fine, we can deal with them. But predominantly they’re in that tiny little 1 per cent, and 99 per cent has just been this positive engagement and positive support and positive feedback with everything that we’ve done so far. That’s been really heart-warming, and it’s what actually gives you the power and the strength to keep pushing forward.”
Underpinning it all is Mick’s deep loyalty to the police force and to serving his community. He hopes his work will continue to strengthen the QPS – an organisation he has dedicated much of his life to. “We don’t just police the straight community,” he says. “We police all communities, regardless of sexuality, gender identity, race or religion. We have to be representational of that.”