Sunny Side of the Street

NYPD Officers Seek To Honor Openly-Gay Officer Sgt. Charles H. Cochrane

In 1981, NYPD Sgt. Charles H. Cochrane, pictured here, shocked colleagues when he stood up at a City Council meeting and testified in support of New York City’s gay rights bill. Cochrane, a 14-year veteran assigned to the Manhattan South Task Force, not only confessed to being gay, but he did so with pride.

“I am very proud of being a New York City policeman,” he said during testimony. “And I’m equally proud of being gay.”

He then went on to testify that, contrary to popular belief, gays were “not cruel, wicked, cursed, sick, or possessed by demons.”

Cochrane’s testimony came just minutes after Pat Burns, then the first vice president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, had argued against the bill by saying he knew of no gay police officers.

Now, more than 30 years later, a group of gay NYPD police officers are hoping to honor Cochrane by naming a street named after him.

The proposal to re-name a small block in Greenwich Village to Sgt. Charles H. Cochrane Way was addressed by Manhattan’s Community Board 2 yesterday. If it passes, it will give recognition to a man who stood up for what he believed in during a time when there weren’t many openly gay police officers.

In the year following his testimony, Cochrane went on to help form the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL), paving the way for scores of similar groups in other cities and states.

“It was a moment that changed the country,’’ Det. Carl Locke, the current GOAL president, told New York Daily News earlier this week. “This meant something. It’s a moment that should be remembered and it should be memorialized.”

The Greenwich Village block was picked because it’s the home of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, where Cochrane and a dozen other gay members of the NYPD first met to discuss forming GOAL. At the time, they were met with some hostility. Cochrane reported receiving a phone call at his home telephone number in which someone threatened to “bomb the faggots.” As a result, extra patrols from the 6th Precinct were told to watch the house of worship.

Cochrane died of cancer in 2008. He was 64 years old. In an interview before his death, he said he was thrilled so many other gays and lesbians were able to come out of the closet as a result of GOAL.

“The bigots had to retreat to the closet,” he said, “and that was very satisfying.”

If the City Council votes in favor of the proposal, there will be a Sgt. Charles H. Cochrane Way in the very neighborhood that started the gay rights movement. Manhattan’s Community Board 2 says a final vote is expected next Tuesday.

Photo credit: New York Daily News.