AS news of a new support network being established for LGBTI police officers in Queensland emerged today, a senior Gold Coast policeman has been forced to make a written apology over accusations of homophobia and bullying.

Meanwhile, a different case against another officer continues.

Following compulsory mediation at the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT), Coolangatta Senior Sergeant Troy Lehmann has had to formally apologise to Constable Joshua Alexander for his treatment of Alexander regarding his sexuality.

Lehmann was accused of making the note “gay” next to Alexander’s name on an openly visible workplace roster in 2014. He later joked about it during an informal staff meeting at a Gold Coast surf club.

According to evidence presented to QCAT, the senior sergeant was said to have had “a huge smile on his face and laughed” by some fellow officers, behaviour that was described by an officer as “negative and derogatory” and considered “homophobic” by those present.

One officer was “horrified” that Lehmann had made the note and read it aloud during the meeting.

“We could see that it also upset [an officer] and that other Sergeants in the group were very uncomfortable by his remarks and laughter,” an officer wrote in documents obtained by the Star Observer.

Another officer was “disgusted” and “embarrassed” to be a part of a station that allowed the treatment directed towards Alexander.

“I was dumbfounded. How could a senior sergeant who has just started at a new station think that this was an acceptable way to behave in a workplace,” the officer wrote.

“I felt disgusted at this homophobic behaviour and with the Coolangatta Station hierarchy for allowing it to continue, I felt embarrassed to be part of a station that accepted this sort of behaviour and gutted for Constable Alexander.”

The same officer said he was unaware, up until May 2015, that Alexander had received any support from QPS management.

Lehmann was also accused of racial vilification after writing “Abor” next to an Indigenous officer’s name.

Alexander originally lodged a complaint with the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission (QADC), accusing Lehmann of “vilification and discrimination” but Lehmann and the Queensland Police Service countered the accusations, lodging submissions that they were “misconceived and lacked substance”.

After having his case dismissed by the commission, Alexander took his case to QCAT where compulsory mediation was ordered.

Documents submitted to QADC and QCAT revealed the emotional and physical toll the matter had taken on Alexander required him to take an extensive leave of absence.

Around the time of the “gay” notation incident, Alexander, a father of two, had only recently come out as gay to his workplace after moving out of the marital home he had shared with his wife.

A written “expression of regret” which states that police employees should be treated with “dignity and respect” was obtained this week by the Gold Coast Bulletin.

“The respondent (Lehmann) accepts that the misunderstanding between them caused pain and difficulties for the applicant,” the written apology said.

“The respondent regrets that. The parties wish to move forward in a positive and professional way and rebuild good sound working relationships between them.”

Following the apology, Alexander agreed to dismiss his complaints against Lehmann.

There is still an ongoing matter regarding complaints Alexander made against another officer, Sergeant Chris Holland, similarly accusing him of homophobic vilification and bullying. A hearing will be held in April in Southport.

Despite Alexander’s case, the Queensland Police Service (QPS) has stated it was “committed to ensuring that, as a service, we reflect the diversity of the people we protect” and today established the LGBTI Support Network for its members.

The Star Observer understands the establishment of the network and Alexander’s case are not linked despite the timing.

Serving as the network’s Executive Sponsor, Deputy Commissioner Stephan Gollschewski said it would promote the QPS as an inclusive and diverse workplace.

“The LGBTI Support Network is comprised of 10 members representing most facets of the LGBTI community and is designed as a resource tool and support mechanism to provide advice and guidance to QPS officers,” Gollschewski said.

“The network has developed a draft diversity guide to provide all QPS members with a greater understanding of gender-diverse people. These documents will give staff the ability to provide better support to QPS gender-diverse members and deliver a higher level of service to the wider LGBTI community.”

After marching in uniform in the Brisbane Pride Festival march last year, assistant coordinator of the network and LGBTI liaison officer Acting Sergeant Ben Bjarnesen said the QPS had come a long way with regards to inclusion.

“It’s a very exciting time for police officers who are part of the LGBTI community to have this network established,” Bjarnesen told the Star Observer.

“When I started in the QPS I would have loved to have a network like this available not only to seek advice from, but also just to know that there are other LGBTI officers out there and that you are not alone.

“It is a great time to be a part of the QPS as a LGBTI officer and for the community alike.”

Senior Constable Ben Bjarnesen, one of the LGBTI liaison officers for the Fortitude Valley police precinct in Brisbane.

Senior Constable Ben Bjarnesen, one of the LGBTI liaison officers for the Fortitude Valley police precinct in Brisbane. (Photo: David Alexander; Star Observer)

The QPS also announced today that the pride flag will fly out the front of police headquarters in Brisbane during International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and officers will wear purple bootlaces to celebrate Wear It Purple Day on August 28.

Responding to questions about Alexander’s case and treatment of LGBTI officers, and the establishment of the support network that he is overviewing, Superintendent David Tucker said the network’s creation came about to tackle challenges LGBTI officers faced within the force.

“There is no single event which has been the catalyst for the creation of the support network,” he told the Star Observer.

“Police Officers and staff members who identify with the LGBTI community have been discussing informally for quite some time the challenges they face within the workplace.

“Each of us have a personal story they can relate to in which they felt uncomfortable in the workplace due to the fact that they were part of the LGBTI community. On many occasions those fears were unfounded as when their work colleagues did discover their LGBTI status – it was not an issue.

Tucker said the QPS was just as susceptible to making “errors of judgement” as any other workplace.

“Not a week goes by when I discuss something about my partner that a member of the community will assume the partner is female. Similarly in the workplace people make errors of judgement, mistakes or forget about being inclusive – in other words making assumptions. We have all done it, including myself,” he said.

“The important part is that when a mistake is made, that an apology is given. All too often in the community – conflict can be resolved by an acknowledgement of wrong and those simple words: ‘I am sorry’, and meaning it.”

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