Church Street Blues: Openly gay police lieutenant changes attitudes

When Lieutenant David Leavitt, supervisor of Nashville Metropolitan Police Department West Precinct's night shift, shows up in the middle of the night to check in on Play or Tribe, it's not the beginning of a crackdown. No, it's far more likely that this long arm of the law will be greeted by regulars as "Officer Dave," his numerous promotions notwithstanding. Lt. Leavitt is not only a friend to many of Church Street's fixtures, but also one of the first, if not the first, openly gay male police officers in Metro PD.

Leavitt joined the police force about twelve years ago, after serving as a paramedic for seven. It was only after his divorce about five years ago, however, that Leavitt revealed his sexual orientation openly. One might have expected that this would have slowed his rise through the ranks, given the traditional image of police forces as dominated by heterosexism and machismo. "In the end," Leavitt says, "I faced no real challenges. If you're looking to hear about mistreatment or lack of opportunities, I haven't experienced, or heard about, any of that."

Leavitt’s impression is that, “the chief wants people in the right position, regardless of gender, sexuality, race, etc. What’s important here is that you do your job, because your fellow officers and community safety depend on that - we can’t afford for the best people to be excluded from the jobs they’re best at for irrelevant reasons. It doesn’t make sense when lives are on the line.” Leavitt’s own rise through the ranks to become the highest ranking, openly gay male in the Nashville Metro PD seems to bear this out.

It’s not just his superiors that Leavitt has found to be welcoming. Though he admits that not all of his fellow officers were immediately overjoyed at the idea of openly gay cops, Leavitt says that, by doing his job well and being who he is, he thinks that he’s helped change some peoples’ perspectives. “An officer came to me recently and told me that another officer, really old school, had told him that I was gay but that I wasn’t afraid to get out there and be a cop when the job requires it! Before he worked with me he probably didn’t feel the same way about gay cops as he does now.” Recently, when officers requested assignments, so many officers requested to work in Leavitt’s detail of over thirty cops that some had to be turned away. “All my sergeants have stuck with me. The officers who work for me don’t seem to care about sexuality - they want someone who cares, who they can depend on and turn to when they need to. To them I just happen also to be gay.”

In his career, Leavitt has found that it’s not just his fellow officers who have misconceptions that affect the relationship between the police and the LGBT community. “The impact that I have that I’m maybe most proud of is on the LGBT people I bump into in the street who think that all cops will discriminate against them. Meeting me seems to give them hope, and faith that they can turn to an officer if they’re in need.” Lieutenant Leavitt recalls Play cast member, the Princess, telling him, after they became friends, that he had completely changed her perspective on cops. This is an experience that has been repeated often. Recently, Leavitt himself went out to make a bar check at Play. While there, he approached a friend, and at the sight of Leavitt, his friend’s friend got “so nervous he was trembling! When I put a hand on his shoulder and said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s okay!’ and told him I was gay and that the cops really weren’t there to hassle anyone, he sighed and just said, ‘That’s so cool!’”

Nashville Metro PD as a whole, and the West Precinct in particular, has made a conscious effort to reach out to the LGBT community. “As a rookie cop,” Leavitt said, “I made a call to Tribe and they said they don’t usually call us because they know the police don’t want to deal with places like this, and I told him not to assume things like that.” That situation has already changed a great deal. “We have a great relationship with Church Street - businesses don’t hesitate to call us anymore. I think we’re building a great rapport now.” Leavitt credits his superior officer, Commander Marlene Pardue, for doing a lot to facilitate this shift. “She’s done a lot to establish and maintain communication with the businesses around Church Street and elsewhere, and she encourages a respectful atmosphere.” 

Nashville Metro PD has also reached out at Nashville Pride, where the department has had a recruiting booth for the last few years. “Once they know I’m gay, I get approached all the time by people in the community and asked, ‘Isn’t being a gay cop hard?” For Leavitt, letting young people know that they can do what he’s done is a great source of pride. “It’s great to know that some of those people who came to me now work in this building.” The number of LGBT officers who are open with their sexuality remains small, but it’s growing, and many others who are not out have spoken with Leavitt privately.

Commander Marlene Pardue says of her precinct, “Our philosophy is to treat everyone fairly - background, class orientation don’t matter.” Leavitt echoed that sentiment in different words: “The cops I know don’t care if the person they pull over is gay, or any other minority. For the most part, we just try to treat people the way we’d want our family to be treated in that situation.” Commander Pardue reflected that many people who might be feeling like officers are targeting them specifically are often “giving too much credit” to what the officers are thinking about. “Police officers most likely haven’t given a thought to things like race or sexual orientation. We’re usually too focused on the job, on enforcing the law and making sure everything is done safely. I’m sure that there have been exceptions but they’re just that - exceptions.”

Among the police, Leavitt reflects, “people are more comfortable every day. I’m proud to think that I’ve had some small part in helping that shift along.” As one of the earliest openly gay officers, and the first to be promoted to such a high rank, Leavitt’s career has been a source of inspiration and hope. “When I got promoted to lieutenant, I got calls and messages from officers, gay and straight, expressing their hope that this says great things for the future and expressing gratitude for my willingness to be out there.” But perhaps even more promising than the attention his career has drawn is the lack of attention he draws. “I’m just another policeman to most people. My partner Will and I took my daughter to Niagra over the summer,” he said, pointing to a picture of the three of them displayed proudly and prominently on his desk at the West Precinct. “I try to host quarterly events for my guys to thank them. Will came with me to the most recent one, a fish fry, and also to the Halloween cookout hosted by the boss.” Just like any other family in the larger Nashville Metro PD family.


For more information about working for Nashville Metropolitan Police department, visit their website here.


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