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Gay New London police officer celebrates Pride, reflects on 'how far we've come'

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New London — On the last day of Pride month, New London Police Department Officer Ryan Soccio reflected Wednesday on his own experience as a gay police officer and "how far we've come" since the 1969 Stonewall riots, when members of the LGBTQ community clashed with police officers in New York City.

The 32-year-old officer first shared his thoughts in a now-viral post on LinkedIn, which by Wednesday had been viewed more than half a million times. The post is accompanied by a photo of Soccio in his New London police uniform, adorned with a rainbow LGBTQ Pride flag pin.

On LinkedIn, Soccio wrote about the struggles he faces as a gay man, a gay police officer and a partner to a gay Black man, and recognized the progress he thinks society has made toward accepting members of the LGBTQ community in law enforcement roles.

"Very few people know the hardships that come along with being both a police officer AND gay, with an added wrinkle: being in a relationship with a Black man," wrote Soccio. "You're vilified by many on the left for being a cop. You're demonized by many on the right for being gay. As someone who was fired from his first department for 'not fitting in,' I understand and appreciate the strides we've made against discrimination and how far we've come as a community."

On Wednesday, Soccio discussed why he chose to publicly share his pride.

"With it being Pride month, it's important to remind ourselves how Pride started. It started with Stonewall, with cops arresting people for dressing in drag or serving alcohol in gay bars," said Soccio, who added that police officers "have not always been on the right side of history."

"I wanted to show how far we've come," he said. "To go from that [Stonewall] to me being able to wear that pin on my uniform just kind of goes to show how far we've come and how much progress we've made."

Soccio said he also hoped to "humanize police officers a little bit, just to shine a light on the fact that we are members of the community, that we come from all different backgrounds and that we're humans with fears and relationships. We're gay, straight, Black, white; people often speak of the police as some kind of amorphous make up, but we're human beings just like everybody else."

In addition to recognizing the progress that's been made, the officer said his post was also motivated by how much work still needs to be done. He said he was disappointed that Heritage of Pride, the organization that runs New York City's Pride march, decided to ban uniformed police officers from participating in this year's parade.

Soccio said that the last year hasn't been easy. Since last summer, police departments and officers across the nation have faced intense scrutiny amid calls for police reform and accountability following the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin, a police officer in Minneapolis.

Soccio said that he and his partner Roderick Tarpley, who live in Cranston, R.I., have experienced exclusion and judgment based on Soccio's job.

"We've been excluded this year from a lot of things and ostracized from some of our friend circles because of what I do for work. It's been challenging and interesting," said Soccio. "But we're lucky that we do have so many friends who support us as a couple and support what I do. And I'm lucky to have such a supportive partner, I couldn't ask for anything more."

The officer, who has been with the New London department for six years, said that he never expected his post — which has gotten just under 500,000 views, 13,000 reactions and nearly 500 comments — to get so much attention.

"I was surprised with the amount of people who shared it, especially with the environment the past year," said Soccio. "I was surprised by the number of people who were vocally supporting a police officer and by the support for me personally."

The support reminded him how important Pride celebrations and declarations are to so many people, in law enforcement and every other community.

"Pride is important because someone tonight still believes they are better off dead than being themselves," said Soccio, referring to high suicide rates among members of the LGBTQ community.

According to The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention services and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth, children and teens in the LGBTQ community experience suicidal thoughts at three times the rate of heterosexual youth.   

Soccio, who has been proudly wearing his Pride pin on his uniform all month long, said he hopes his post and his own pride spread awareness and help others feel proud to freely be themselves.

t.hartz@theday.com

j.vazquez@theday.com 

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