Is Officer Michael Carney more Irish than he is gay? There was strong evidence of both while he shared his story with me on Saint Patrick's Day in Wilton Manors over a strong brew, a strong brew by Starbuck's, to be specific.
Mike's parents were Irish immigrants. He grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts, in an Irish neighborhood named "Hungry Hill" where the Catholic Church owned his soul but not his imagination; he chose Patrick as his Confirmation name not to honor his heritage but to honor his lust for the man by that name who lived next door.
"When I teach recruits at the police academy, they always ask when I knew I was gay. I tell them that when all my friends were watching Marcia on the Brady Bunch sprout boobs, I was looking at Greg's ass. I guess I had a clue." He may have had a clue, but many years would pass before Mike Carney would solve the case.
In high school, Mike played hockey and hung out with the jocks. They drank heavily but he had no trouble keeping up with them. "It was a great way to hide. With a beer in each hand, you couldn't throw your arms around a girl." After high school, when all his friends took the civil service exam to join the police department, he tagged along. Unlike his friends, he passed that test and became a police cadet, which meant working at the station while earning an Associate of Arts degree and thereby gaining an advantage over other officer candidates.
In 1982, he became a police officer and was assigned to the most violent and poorest section of Springfield. "At that time I wasn't even out to myself. I was comfortable only when I was extremely intoxicated. I wasn't getting laid at all. Only once, when I was drunk and cruising Springfield's gay 'loop' in my El Camino, I hooked up with a guy in a Pontiac Lemans. He gave me his number. It took me a year and a half to get drunk enough to call him and his mother answered and said he moved to New York to be a model. One night I'm at this cop bar on Chestnut Street and the corrections officer on the stool next to me is rubbing his leg against mine. We drank till we closed the place and got into my car and fogged up the windows. Then I hear two cops knocking on the door telling us to get out of the car. I knew both of them, and one says 'We're not gonna tell anyone about this because someday we might need a favor, and besides, if we told anyone at the station, they'd kill you.' Nobody on the force was out, and after that I wasn't going to ever come out."
Mike hid his fears by getting drunk every night with his fellow officers. He paid for his double life with severe headaches, constant hangovers and violent illnesses.
In 1984 during an internal drug investigation, Mike refused to talk about a party he had attended with fellow officers. For this he was suspended and removed from the force. He filed an appeal that took four years before the Massachusetts Supreme Court overturned his termination on the grounds that an internal and criminal investigation cannot be conducted concurrently. That decision is still referred to as "Carney's rights." Disgusted with police work, Mike resigned from the force after reinstatement.
"I took all the money I got in the settlement and partied hard. I flew down to Fort Lauderdale with a bunch of straight friends, checked into the Yankee Clipper and drank like never before until one night I had a complete breakdown. The next day I did what every drunk does. I got drunk again. I could not come to terms with being gay. At home, I started working in our family real estate consulting business where I was always late or leaving early until my sister told me I had a choice: get help or get fired." Mike chose recovery. "I started going to meetings and the fog started to lift. In my first year of sobriety I started going to gay meetings in Hartford." In July of 1991, he came out of the closet and decided to return to the police force, having met Officer Preston Horton with whom he started the local chapter of GOAL, the Gay Officers Action League.
During his reapplication process, Mike was victimized by a crooked police informant who knew he was gay. He was cleared of drug trafficking accusations, but his request for reinstatement was repeatedly denied. He filed the first sexual orientation discrimination case against a law enforcement agency in Massachusetts and after two and a half years got his job back.
Since 1994, Mike has been sober, out, single, promoted, served on the Governor's hate crimes task force and seen his GOAL chapter grow from 7 members to more than 300. With a strong network of support that includes friends in Florida, Mike is rediscovering Fort Lauderdale through clear eyes and is in the process of purchasing a home here.
In the course of our talk at Starbuck's, I did not tell him that he and I had met at a bar in Springfield many years ago. For obvious reasons, he would not remember that night. I was curious to meet the man he has become, and now that I have, I look forward to having this healthy and hot cop as a neighbor.
(A version of this profile appeared recently in South Florida Gay News.)