VANCOUVER – Const. Cheryl Letkeman still remembers the cruel slurs she faced growing up gay in Maple Ridge, B.C., and the fear she experienced before coming out to her parents.
“It’s usually not the greatest time of anyone’s life,” Letkeman says in a video released this week featuring RCMP members participating in the “It Gets Better” campaign.
Letkeman, 42, who’s been a police officer for nearly six years, is among 20 officers and civilian members of the RCMP to appear in the nine-minute video, each recalling their own coming-out stories.
For Letkeman, it did get better. She came out to her parents, despite her fears. She joined the RCMP nearly six years ago, working with at-risk youth in Surrey, south of Vancouver.
It was with those youth in mind that she came up with the idea that the national police force needed to join the “It Gets Better” movement with its own video.
“Dealing with kids, I see the struggles that they have,” Letkeman said in an interview Tuesday.
“I think it’s incredibly important for the youth to have positive role models to look up to when they feel like things aren’t going to get any better.”
The “It Gets Better” project was started two years ago by American sex columnist Dan Savage in response to several high-profile suicides involving teens who were bullied for being gay.
The campaign encourages users to record videos telling their own stories. So far, more than 50,000 videos have been uploaded, including from celebrities and politicians such as U.S. President Barack Obama, talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.
Police officers in Austin, Texas, and San Francisco have released their own “It Gets Better” videos, as have members of the British Transport Police, but so far the RCMP appears to be the only Canadian police force to participate.
Letkeman said when she brought the idea to her superiors, they were immediately supportive. She canvassed RCMP units throughout the Vancouver region asking for volunteers, and the 20 who responded gathered over three days this past summer to tell their stories.
Many of the officers talk about bullying in school or the moment they came out to their families.
“They were really supportive,” a homicide investigator originally from St. John’s, N.L., tells the camera. “Mom was only disappointed that it took me so long to have been honest with her, and dad was the same, and he actually said that he hoped he’d never said anything that made me feel like I couldn’t have come out earlier.”
One officer recalls the reaction of his father, a police officer, who “took it tough, he didn’t really understand.” Another recalls telling his mother he was quitting the priesthood because he was gay: “She cried for three years straight.”
One issue the participants in the video don’t talk about is their experience within the RCMP.
“This isn’t really about the RCMP, it’s about members telling their personal stories to youth so the youth can relate to the people telling their stories,” said Letkeman.
She said her own experience with in the force has been positive.
“I can only speak to my own experience, and mine has been fantastic,” she said. “I’ve never had an issue. I’ve never had anything other than support.”
By Tuesday afternoon, the video had been watched more than 15,000 times and was posted to the front of the main “It Gets Better” website. Dan Savage, who writes a widely syndicated sex column, tweeted a link to the video on Monday.