"It's all in my high school memory book where I said I wanted to become an undercover agent, a detective and a member of a SWAT team. I accomplished my goals. Now I'm 40 and things didn't work out the way I thought, but I know who I am and I have never been happier."
Christina Rodriguez is able to say this wistfully but without anger or bitterness while describing her life as a Hollywood, Florida policewoman in a profession that some might call a deck stacked against her because she is a woman, a Latina and a lesbian.
Originally from the Bronx and of Puerto Rican descent, Christina grew up in south Florida where she was a popular girl who had a passion for physical activity and for helping others. She did not realize her passion for women until she began dating one within the ranks in 2003. They kept their relationship quiet. "In my first eight or nine years on the force, 1994 to 2003, I was told not to come out and admit it because if I did, half of the Department would turn its back on me. I kept it quiet to protect both of us and to help our careers. I was used to this because, where I went to school, gay was very taboo. You could get beat up, and I was already a racial minority...."
The strategy seemed to work, as Christina received many opportunities and advancements in exactly the adrenaline driven work she had always wanted. She became a VIN (Vice, Intelligence and Narcotics) undercover agent, dealing with mid-level drug and organized crime situations. She went on to the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) representing Hollywood for more than two years, working under cover. "With the DEA, I worked on the big stuff. Multi-million dollar seizures, surveillance, wiretaps. We did some huge drug busts. I remember netting a room full of Ecstasy smuggled in from Amsterdam."
Christina came out slowly to her fellow DEA officers who did not seem to have a problem with her sexuality. She became a close friend of fellow gay police officer Mikey Verdugo who has recently made headlines combatting mistreatment by the Hollywood Police Department. Reassigned to street level narcotics work, she focused locally on crimes related to crack cocaine and prostitution. She loved her work. "Are you kidding? I totally loved it. The more violent the criminal, the more satisfaction I got from catching my guy."
Her sexuality and her work were always a balancing act. "When I first joined the force, I got hit on a lot. When I didn't respond to guys, the rumors started. Even after I stopped denying my sexuality, guys on the job would be like "You just never had some of this yet" and there was always a lot of sarcasm I had to put up with."
2003 was a pivotal moment in Christina's life. Her relationship with a woman coworker had ended and she decided to "start being me" not with a big announcement but by simply not denying her personal truth when asked.
In 2004, on her way home from work, Christina was in a serious car accident. The reaction of her superiors to this accident consisted of initiating an "internal investigation" based on unsubstantiated suspicions. Their actions at that time seemed to establish a pattern in which the quality of her service was not questioned but bureaucratic technicalities that would be insignificant in the appraisals of other officers were highlighted against her. Christina is convinced that although her peers in the Hollywood Police Department were accepting of her as their coworker, her superiors seemed to have forgotten the words they spoke when taking the oath of their office, words promising service without regard to personal beliefs and prejudices.
Removed from the street crimes unit, she was patrolled until 2005 when she pursued an opportunity for SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) training with the encouragement of SWAT team members. In the course of applying for this training, Christina discovered that although she was being forced to pay for her training, the Department was footing that bill for other applicants. She successfully achieved SWAT certification in 2006 and is proud to carry the SWAT coin denoting her achievement. Despite her certification, she was denied a place on the SWAT team by an Assistant Police Chief who told her "It's not time yet." After that, she was consistently denied requests for a variety of positions.
Another on-the-job accident resulted in serious neck injuries that required surgery. Although it was her goal to return to service, Christina's condition and the antagonistic mindset of her superiors became overwhelming and she ended thirteen years of service with a disability retirement. She has not worn a police uniform since March of 2007. It is sad for her to realize that the criminals on the street were much easier to deal with than were her superiors in the Department.
Christina tells the story of her police career with animation and in good spirits. She is lively, personable, optimistic and attractive, but her post-retirement life has not been without difficulty. She sought counseling and help to eliminate the pain medications prescribed for her injuries. She worked hard to achieve balance and peace of mind. She renewed her interest in physical activity albeit within the restrictions of a triple titanium plate, eight screws and two artificial cages in her neck, and she has shed a significant amount of weight. With her good looks and engaging personality, Christina could easily deliver an appealing performance as herself in a TV drama about the tough life of a lesbian cop. Her advice to any rookie gay cop is simple. "Be yourself."
(A version of this profile appears in the current issue of South Florida Gay News where I also write a blog for the online version of the paper.)